In our latest blog, Head of External Relations, Suzanne Halls, explores what young people think about statistics, following a chance encounter on a train…

It’s common to hear two claims: that young people are disengaged with policy; and that people of all ages are disengaged with statistics and data, and have low levels of statistical literacy. In OSR, we are sceptical about both claims – especially the claim that people are disengaged with statistics. We know this from our casework, which features a wide range of people raising questions about the use of statistics. And we know it from our wider observations about the social life of statistics, not least during the pandemic.

Sometimes, though, it’s good to substantiate general opinions with on-the-ground evidence. In this context, it’s a good idea for OSR to test our broadly positive take on statistics and data in society with what people actually say and do.

And this is exactly what happened to me earlier this year. I was on a train, and I overheard a group of young people talking about the importance of statistics and data. I got talking to one of them, called Gilbert, who is a student studying his GCSE’s from Hertfordshire.

I was struck by his enthusiasm for data and statistics, and I wanted to get a fuller read out from him of what he thought. So I was delighted when he agreed to have a further chat with me about how he understands and uses numbers – and I’ve set out his responses to my questions below. They speak for themselves, I think, so I’ve set them out more or less as he said them.

Why are you interested in statistics?

I like statistics because they give a comprehensive view of problems and help you work out solutions and predictions.

How do you think statistics help us?

I think that statistics are very important in the modern world because they act as the backbone of the economy and government decisions. They are also the way most data is presented in professional settings.

What are the benefits of statistics for young people?

Good statistics have the benefit of letting us completely understand the world we are going into and help us work out ways to improve it through technology and engineering.

Do young people need more of a say on data collection and use?

Yes, I think that teenagers and children need to be taught more about what is being taken from them when they accept ‘cookies’. At the moment I feel companies can put anything in their terms of service and get away with it and I feel we need to regulate this more heavily.

What questions do you think official statistics should be asking young people?

I think that official statistics should be asking more questions about activity with technology and more in-depth questions about climate change, I feel that if surface level questions are asked there is less chance of the young person engaging.

How could statistics producers across government engage more with younger audiences?

Nowadays the younger generation interact more over social media like Snapchat or Tik Tok. This means that less young people are seeing conventional ads on TV. If statistics produces condensed the facts into short entertaining videos and put them on platforms such as Tik Tok there is a high chance more young people would engage with them.

Do you think you are taught enough about statistics in schools?

No, I feel that we need to be taught more about statistics to be able to interact and understand the world that older generations are leaving us with, such as the way politics are run at the moment and more importantly how to try and stop or preferably reverse climate change.

How do you interact with data?

I don’t really have a favourite way of interacting with data, I prefer dashboards with multiple graphs but am not overly fussed.

Where do you go for statistical information?

At the moment I use the Hustle to find business and political related statistics and sources such as the guardian for world statistics. However, the problem is there arn’t that many sites for finding out statistics and lots of people don’t try and find them.

Thanks so much for sharing your views. What is your favourite statistical fact?

I am absolutely fascinated by the fact that the human eye blinks on average 4,220,000 times a year!

As I said, I think this speaks for itself; and although it’s only one example, it does provide an inspiring example to rebut the idea that young people are disengaged with statistics and data.

And this evidence is just a taster – we recently published a think piece and research report on the concept of statistical literacy and the importance of communicating effectively, which is well worth a read!

At the Office for Statistics Regulation we are interested in hearing views from everyone on statistics and how they are used, we encourage you follow our twitter, read our newsletter, visit our website and contact us with any thoughts or questions you might have.