Official statistics are a source of secondary data. They are produced by the government. They are quantative data. There are two types of Official Statistics. Hard statistics which are objective and can’t be manipulated; statistics on births and marriages are hard statistics. Soft statistics which are more subjective are easy to manipulate; statistics on crime, poverty and unemployment are soft statistics.
Positivists favour Official Statistics as they take a scientific approach by using standardised research methods to get the quantitave data which allows them to make generalisations. Official statistics are delivered on a large scale and this is another reason why positivists favour them. However interpretivists say statistics are social constructions and don’t tell you about meanings and motives. Positivists prefer official statistics as they are practical as they already exist.
They are also cheap and readily available as they’re in an easy form data. Furthermore they are categorised and in immediate usable form. Official statistics cover most important aspects of social life; especially those the state is interested in such as education, divorce etc. official statistics can provide starting points for research . boys educational underachievement was first identified from official statistics in education. They also provide background data about ethnic, class and gender.
Positivists prefer official statistics as sample sizes tend to be done on a big scale; this shows they’re representative. The census survey is done every 10 years; every household has to fill in the form by law; however it gives virtually complete coverage of thousands in the UK. As official statistics produce quantitative data this makes it easy to make comparisons and see trends; however this shows that they’re reliable. As they are standardised each time it usually shows that the same categories and form of collection are used most of the time; it is easier to replicate.
But Official Statistics aren’t as reliable as positivists say; as the Census there are recording errors which are made, households which are missed out and even people may complete forms wrong. Interpretivists reject the use of official statistics as they lack validity. The problems with official statistics are that they don’t always measure what they say they measure; how data is presented may differ from those of the sociologist; making official statistics invalid. As interpretivists say statistics are social constructions; but not the truth this results in social processes of negotiation.
An example is crime statistics as they don’t tell you an accurate figure of how many crimes have been committed however the police don’t know about all the crimes that are committed as some people may get let off, or either they don’t trust the police enough to tell them about a crime or some people may be scared. However this is an example to show that official statistics are invalid. On the census survey unpaid housework is excluded however when it comes to unemployment figures women are most likely to be excluded too.
But feminists oppose to Official Statistics due to them being biased against women. However Marxists think all Official Statistics are politically biased to serve the interests of the ruling class. Political decisions include how statistics are presented and how areas of social life are covered. Although in the 1980’s the official definition of unemployment altered over 30 times and this presented the government in a more positive light. The evidence suggests that some sociologists may not use Official Statistics in their research due to many reasons.
Positivists often present Official Statistics as ‘social facts’, but Interpretivists differ as they seen them as social constructs; which aren’t true representations in reality. As hard statistics are less socially constructed and more accurate they include simple counts of events such as; births and deaths. But soft statistics such as crime and unemployment statistics however lack reliability and lack validity as they’re easier to manipulate. Furthermore Official Statistics can prompt research which hasn’t been done before.