27 August 2009

Scotland's secret quantitative life...

I’m a great fan of quantitative social research. While much of the texture of people’s lives are lost by its persistent reduction of lived experience to a webway of percentages, percentiles, means and medians, groups above or below average, the quantitative view invariably tells us something we did not know, or only dimly appreciated. I’ve found that life exercises strong temptations to regard the self and your ordinary life, universalised, as the ordinary condition of most men and women. While sometimes, images and information succeed in temporarily rebuking this jealous sense of one’s own ordinariness, it tends to return, the lives lead by our fellow citizens collapsing once again into our own experience, its tenor informed by the settings in which we loiter and the people we meet.

Big, hefty quantitative research is uniquely empowered to give those comfortable assumptions a shoogle. Even if the aggregation of conceptual categories can be problematic, and leave us empty-handed in terms of the whys and wherefores which brings that state of affairs about, the social frame is sketched in in our minds. We know ourselves better. That at least is my polemic on the goodness of quantitative research, and the interest in the Scottish Household Survey 2007-08, published this week. Obscured by the froth and vinegar attending Megrahi’s release, the survey contains various interesting little sparkling motes of illumination into Scottish life, and per the report’s mandatory corny ante-title, Scotland’s People. Here are just a few of the statistics which caught my eye. For those of you who enjoy a good going bout of social research in your spare time, you can read the whole publication here.

On t’internet…

One for the bloggers, this. We pioneers of citizen journalism and happily, among the digitally included. On the question of use, asked flatly, 68% of men use the internet, whether on a personal computer or at work, while 30% don’t. Amongst the ladies, 61% make use of it on the same terms, with a 7% hike in female internet non-use, up at 37%. On the phenomenon of the “silver surfer” in Scotland, the figures show that 93% of women over 75 don’t use the internet – while 17% of apparently more tec-savvy chaps over 75 “surf”. 44% of men aged 60 – 74 use the t’internet, while only 33% of women the same age. For both men and women under 44, internet use is in the 80% + region. Deprivation emerges as an exclude force here. Among the 15% classified as most deprived, 50% use the net personally or for work, some 14% lower than the average across Scotia. On the home access question, 64% had access in the last quarter of 2008, compared to only 40% in the first quarter of 2003. Deprivation reappears here also. While the Scotland averages are around 60% have home access, 40% don’t – these figures invert among the most deprived, with 59% not able to access the internet at home.

On being cultural…

I’ve mentioned this before, in the context of unpopular operatics and balletics. The lassies are more cultural than the chaps, once again, with 77% of women getting up to something cultural, to only 67% of men. On the figure of reading, which I mentioned before, men continuing to be dismal, with only 57% of respondents reading for pleasure, opposed to 70% of women. This is a decrease on all counts on the previous figures. Marginally cheering news for Scottish Opera, with a swelling 1% increase on last figures, to 6& of the population taking an interest in howling Brunhildas and yammering hairdressers. Scottish Ballet, however, languishes stead on its 5%. The National Theatre of Scotland may be more cheerful, with 28% of the population up for plays and drama, including panto. A quarter of the population, however, enjoys “none of the above” even once across the year, including museums, galleries, the cinema, libraries, live music – or all the rest. A pretty grim life, that.

On housing tenure…

On housing tenure in 2008, 66% of householders were “owner occupied”, with 23% in social rented housing, 9% in private rented housing and 2% making some other arrangement. Contrast this with the figures from 1999, where the percentages were 61, 32, 5 and 2 percent respectively. Contrast this with the reported owner occupation rate in 1961, which was only 25% of the total. When mapped against the Survey’s cohort identified as the “15% most deprived”, the rate of home ownership within this category is 34%, with a much higher use of socially rented housing, at 57%. Interestingly, with this 15% excised from the whole, and the “rest of Scotland” is examined along the same lines, owner occupation runs at 72%, use of social rented housing 17%.

On banking…

Particularly interesting, this. Asked, do you have a bank or building society account? 91% said yes, while 5% confirmed they did not, another 5% not owing up, one way or the other. Contrast this with 1999, when 86% of respondents confirmed accounts, while a significantly larger number – 12% - had no account in the household. Like much of the survey, deprivation seems to be a key variable. “4% of households in the 15% most deprived areas did not have an account of any kind compared with only 1% in the rest of Scotland” (2009, 77).

Savings or investments…

The survey also enquired about whether households had either of the above between 1999 and 2008. Rates vary a bit – and toughminded souls telling the researcher to stuff their question increase from 6% in 1999 to 9% in 2008 – but in the period a maximum of 54% of householders have any savings or investments between ’99 and ’08, while households admitting having no savings varies from a low of 37% in 2002/03 to a high of 42% in 2008.

Purchasing goods on credit…

52% of households have and have used a credit card from one of their collective wallets, while 34% use no kind of credit in 2008 – be it mail order schemes, charge cards, hire purchase or what have you. Peering into how credit relates to types of household – be they single adult, small adult, single parents, single pensioners or what have you – the single pensioner is the least likely to have a credit card (31%), and the most likely to make use of none of these streams of debt (54%), followed by single parents (46%).

On highest qualification…

24% of respondents in ‘07/08 had a degree or professional qualification. Splendidly, at this level, there is a basic gender parity with 25% of male and 24% of female respondents. Roughly the same % of the total, 23% have no qualifications – including O grades, Highers and equivalents. Given prevailing educational policies, the weighting of this towards the older cohorts is perhaps unsurprising, with 42% of 60 – 74 year olds and 56 % of those older than 75 have no qualifications.

On driving licenses…

Think everyone can drive? (I certainly can’t. Hate the hideous metal things.) Am I a lonely, incompetent, faintly emasculated soul? Apparently not! Only 67% of adults hold full diving licenses, of which 76% are men and 60% women. Among the young – those 16 – 24, 45% of chaps can legally tot their vehicle, 40% of chapesses can. That means that being driving-license bearing youth pitches you into the minority. Yeehaw.

On puffing fags…

Recorded averages put smoking rates at around 26% of men and 25% of women questioned. Among the “youff”, the percentages are higher, with 30% of male 16 – 24 year olds are smoke cracked, to 28% of nicotine-soused young women. Apparently, 58% of those classified as “unemployed and seeking work smoke”, while a massive 64% of those unable to work due to short term ill-health do so. Devil making smoky work for idle hands, there, I imagine.

On being Green…

No, the question is not whether you are yet another bald man, standing for public office representing the Scottish Green Party. Rather, and arguably, much more simply – the question – do you recycle? If so, what? Its pretty de minimus stuff – namely, did you recycle anything in the past month. But still, interesting to see changes in patterns. In 2008, 83% of households recycled some newspapery artefacts, an increase from a mere 45% in 2003. Given our boozy nation undoubtedly generates a good deal of glass bottles, a pleasing 70% of households chucked one of their old Merlot bottles into the recycling tubs, another increase on the 2003 figure of 35%. Interesting variations in whether folk recycle by what kind of house they live in, be it bungalow or flat.

That’s my selection. Plenty of other material in the Report's 200-odd pages to titillate and delight the quantitatively sensitive that I've left out. Equally, there are political implications associated with the data and in particular, the continuing exclusions associated with deprivation in Scotland. The detail serves to remind us of the consequences of deprivation in small places, and how far it acts to constrict access to public goods and society's cultural capital.


  1. "with 23% in social rented housing, 9% in private rented housing and 2% making some other arrangement"

    That's 34%, one third of Scottish Households rent their property.

    It puts Labour's 'property tax' in perspective, how exactly is a rented accommodation an 'indicator of wealth' and why should my taxation be based on the value of the home I rent?

  2. It's Brünnhilde you fool, not Brunhilda!

  3. Is Anonymous one of the operatic 6%, smug in his use of the umlaut? Strangely, heavy metal bands also revel in its use...

  4. Indeed I am. At least I have something to be smug about. What is your vice Conan? Humping Jilly Cooper's latest paperback whilst fingering your abacus? Utterly pathetic!

  5. You also presume that I am a man, when I am most certainly not. Your "Conan" soubriquet tells me that you are not only a male, but also either (1)a masturbation obsessed fourteen year old who should refrain from wading into conversations for which you are ill prepared, or (2) an exceptionally lonely old duffer, perhaps entering a mid-life crisis, who spends most of his time watching DVDs and drinking to forget why everything has gone so horribly wrong. So, are you the former or the latter, Mr Librarian?

  6. Wow anonymous, if you are so interested have a wee click on my moniker.
    Of course I can't do the same to you.Perhaps you have more to hide than I do?

  7. Ha ha she so called you on that Mr Peat Worrier, imagine not knowing how to spell Brynhildr?

    Tell me Ms Anonymous do you wear hub caps over your breasts and horns in your shiny helmet?

  8. Alas, dear Monty, 'tis true!

    Anonymous, my humble apologies. As I've noted here previously, opera isn't my forte. I can only entrust myself into the tender benevolences of the Gods of Opera, and pray that their swift vengeance doesn't smart too keenly!