Royal Statistical Society announce their Statistics of the Year

RSS 2019 Statistics of the Year

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) has today announced their 2019 Statistics of the Year (SOTY). PHASTAR Head of Statistical Research, Prof. Jen Rogers is RSS Vice-President for External Affairs and chair of the SOTY judging panel. Here she discusses this year’s winners. 

Every year we choose a UK Statistic of the Year, an International Statistic of the Year, and a few highly commended statistics which we feel capture the spirit of the year and highlight how enlightening statistics can be. I believe that statistics are not designed to end conversations, but rather they should generate discussion and debate. These statistics provide insight, and hopefully help us better understand some of the key issues that we are facing right now. So, what are the winners… 

The UK Statistic of the Year for 2019 is 58%. This is the proportion of people in relative poverty who live in a working household. This rather bleak statistic captures one of the biggest issues that the UK faces today, and whilst we often think of those in poverty as out of work, this statistic shows that this is not the case. There has been a huge focus by politicians to encourage people into work as a way to escape poverty and the ONS has announced just this week that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since 1975. But we can see from this winning statistic that employment doesn’t necessarily mean an escape from poverty. We hope that the new government takes note! 

The International Statistic of the Year for 2019 is 72.6 years and this is the estimated global average for life expectancy at birth in 2019 – a new record high. In 1950 this global average was just 45.7 years, so people are living much longer than they used to. Most media coverage of life expectancy has focussed on the stalling of life expectancy in rich countries such as the UK and US, with a BBC report from earlier this month quoting ONS figures that state a baby born in 2019 can now expect to celebrate 3 fewer birthdays than a baby born in 2014. But this more positive news for the world as a whole has not had the coverage it deserves. If we look at Estonia, for example, they have had sizeable increases in life expectancy over the last few years and this powerful statistic paints the bigger picture that life expectancy across the world has steadily improved to reach a record high. 

The judging panel felt that there were two other statistics that stood out as deserving to be highly commended for UK Statistic of the Year. The first of these is the change in the average sugar content of soft drinks following the introduction of the Soft Drinks Industry Levy: -28.8%. This decrease of nearly 30% far exceeds the progress made in other food and drink categories (e.g. breakfast cereals) where a voluntary approach has been adopted and is a powerful example of the power of tax to change behaviour. The second highly commended statistic is 10.3%. Electric and hybrid models now account for more than 1 in 10 new vehicle registrations in the UK, with the 10% threshold being passed for the first time in November. Cutting roadside emissions from the UK’s vehicles remains a significant challenge and a much-discussed topic, and this proportion is an increase on the 6.8% recorded in November last year. 

The eclectic mix of runners up continues with three highly commended International Statistics of the Year. First up is the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere in parts per million (ppm): 415.26ppm. This is the highest figure ever recorded and this topic has been highly topical in 2019 with ‘climate strikes’ and expert warnings saying that we now face a ‘climate emergency’, rather than simply ‘climate change’. This statistic is as important as it is terrifying. Our second statistic is 54 deaths per 1,000 and it is the fall in under-five mortality rates, globally, since 1990. Statistics published this year showed that the mortality rate for under-fives was 39 deaths per 1,000 in 2018, down from an estimated 93 in every 1,000 in 1990. This is really important. Child mortality is one of the leading indicators of overall development in countries. Whilst there is still work to do to close the gap between rich and poor countries, this statistic highlights the steady but low-profile progress that has been made. And finally, we have 73%, which is how much more likely women car passengers wearing seatbelts are to be seriously injured in frontal car crashes than men. The gender pay gap has been a hot topic this year, but this statistic shows that the underlying problems are much more widespread than this. There is a broader question about equality of the sexes and it shows that even in the most unexpected areas, there can still be a substantial degree of bias. Why the increase in risk? Women are at a greater risk of serious injury partly because cars have been designed using crash test dummies based on the average male anatomy, not the female one.

 These statistics are just a few of the many nominations that we received, and we have hopefully maintained a balance between positive statistics showing where progress has been made, and negative statistics that highlight areas where there is still more work to be done. We feel that these statistics address some of the key issues that have been in the public domain this year, but they are of course only a snapshot and we would encourage the public to delve into the data and the topics in more detail themselves. 

As we are approaching the end of the 2010s, this year the RSS will also be announcing their Statistics of the Decade. Come back on Monday to see what these are…