Friday, 17 April 2009

Lies, Express lies and statistics

On the front page of early editions of the Express was the curious headline 'Marriage is on way out'. Before you could say 'where is it going?', the police-baton-bruise on the leg of a G20 protestor had taken over.

But the story lives on in 'Weddings plunge by 40,000', a mindlessly partisan article by Sarah O'Grady. The headline comes from this: Between 1996 and 2006 some 40,000 fewer marriages were recorded. Fewer than when? What does that actually mean?

Using figures for just England and Wales, there were 278,975 marriages in 1996. In 2006, that was 239,450. So there were nearly 40,000 fewer marriages in 2006 compared to 1996. But O'Grady writes it in a very clumsy way.

She adds: Since Labour came to power, at least 4,000 fewer marriages have taken place every year.

And look at the Excel file here and it isn't as simple as dividing 40,000 by 10 years. For a start, 1996 wasn't the year Labour came to power - if you take the 1997 figure as the start, the difference with 2006 is only 33,000 less. The table also shows that between 2001 and 2004, the number of marriages actually increased for each of those years, before declining again. A decline that has been going on fairly steadily since the early 1970s.

So how does the Express come to the conclusion that 'critics blamed Labour’s 12 years in power for this erosion of traditional family values'?

If these figures go up to 2006, that is only 9 years of a Labour government. Of the 10 years between 1996 and 2006, Labour wasn't even in government for nearly a year and half of that period. Of the rest, there were increases in the number of marriages in four other years.

And compare this with the Major government from 1990-97. There were nearly 59,000 fewer marriages in 1997 than in 1990 - nearly double the decline under Labour.

But of course, the Express will never let the facts get in the way of a bit of political point-scoring. So in a shortened version of the same article, the headline becomes 'Has Labour destroyed the British way of life?' and the editorial thunders that 'The decline in marriage is doing terrible harm'. Three articles, not one suggesting this is an on-going decline...


  1. Good work - thanks for posting. What you expose is exemplary of greater ills in British Journalism - ill-judged, reactionary, biased, alarmist, populist nonsense.

  2. Agree with Kit, excellent example of newspaper bias distorting reality.

  3. Thank-you very much for link


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