Statistics 101

By Jan Creaser

Parading out statistics works both for and against champions of women’s rights. How does one interpret statistics? What can be taken as accurate? Consider the following a rudimentary lesson in questioning the numbers.

The following facts were taken from Statistics Canada’s Education in Canada Survey (1999).

Fact 1: In 1997, there were 8,083 men and 19,963 women enrolled in health profession programs across Canada.

Observation: Wow, it sure looks like women are taking a significant role in health care!

Closer observation: The above statistic includes dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, nursing and rehabilitation. Women have always dominated in care fields, such as nursing and dental hygiene. This statistic does not mean the sexes are balanced across such programs as medicine and dentisty, per se.

Question: How many women were enrolled in medical and dental (other than hygiene) schools in 1997? Of course, we don’t have the answer to this because Stats Can doesn’t report the numbers that way.

Fact 2: In 1997-98, women made up about 25 per cent of 33,700 university educators in Canada.

Observation: Holy crud! Where are all the female professors and PhDs? Well, until recently women were expected to marry, raise babies and take care of a household. Many middle-class women sought undergraduate degrees, but were often told they shouldn’t, or saw no need to pursue graduate work. Also, women received only 36 per cent of 4,000 doctorate degrees granted in 1997.

Question: Why so few?

Closer Observation: In 1997, 21,300 master’s degrees were granted, 51 per cent of which were earned by women. One could hope, based on this statistic, that a number of those master’s students went onto the PhD level. Perhaps in another five years we’ll see gains in the number of female educators and the number of doctorate degrees being granted to women–of course, we might have to wait for the old men to retire first.

We provide you with this information in the hopes you’ll take a valuable lesson from it: don’t believe everything you read. Conversely, don’t scoff at a statistic until you’ve done some digging. Sometimes the most disturbing statistics are true.


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