Royal Statistical Society announce their Statistics of the Decade

RSS Statistics of the Decade

As we approach the end of 2019 and the end of the 2010s, the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) have today announced their Statistics of the Decade (SOTD) to go alongside their annual Statistics of the Year. PHASTAR Head of Statistical Research, Prof. Jen Rogers is RSS Vice-President for External Affairs and chair of the SOTD judging panel. Here she discusses this year’s winners.

The last 10 years have seen a wide variety of topics take centre stage and as we approach 2020, the RSS has looked over the statistics of the last ten years that have grabbed the headlines, and also statistics that we felt were important but might have been missed by the public. But these statistics provide only a snapshot, and we would hope that the public would delve into these in more detail. Let’s start with the winning statistics… 

The UK Statistic of the Decade is 0.3% and it is the average annual increase in UK productivity in the decade or so following the financial crisis. What is productivity I hear you ask? Productivity refers to the amount of output produced either per worker or per hour worked, and it represents how efficient an economy is in creating goods and services. Pre-crisis (1997-2007), UK productivity was around 2% and we have seen near-zero productivity growth since the financial crisis. The more productive we are, the more prosperous we are – pay increases, so we have more money in our pockets, and the Government has more money to spend on public services such as the NHS. Looking at the latest Office of National Statistics comparisons, UK Productivity growth is lower than the US by 23%, lower than France by 23%, and lower than Germany by 26%. 

The estimated accumulated deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, over the past decade, is equivalent to 8.4 million football pitches, which is our International SOTD. Ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest are critically important for our wellbeing, removing a lot of carbon dioxide and pollution from the atmosphere. Since 2010, mile upon mile of rainforest has been replaced with a wide range of commercial developments including cattle ranching, which is responsible for millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year. The Amazon rainforest is irreplaceable and is shrinking at an alarming rate. This statistic gives a very powerful visual of a hugely important environmental issue. 

Alongside the winners, we chose two UK Highly Commended statistics and two International Highly Commended statistics. The first UK Highly Commended statistic is 27%. Over 1 in 4 (3.5 million) 20-34 year olds are now estimated to live with their parents. In 2009 this figure was 23% (2.8 million). This statistic captures one of the biggest concerns for the UK over the last decade – housing affordability. This surge in young adults living with their parents has led to the coining of the term the ‘boomerang generation’ – those who leave and then return home after university or college as they are unable to afford soaring rents or need to save for longer to put down a deposit for a home of their own. The second statistic that caught the judges’ eyes is 30.6% and is the proportion of all board positions in the UK’s 250 biggest listed companies that are held by women. The last decade has seen a concerted effort to increase the number of women in the boardroom of UK plc, with the “30% club” formed by Helena Morrissey in 2010 being a key driver of this. Other nominations submitted focussing on the gender pay gap and the very small number of female chief executives at Britain’s biggest companies highlight the further work that is still necessary, but this statistic captures some of the progress that has been made. 

For the International Statistic of the Year, the first statistic that is Highly Commended is 165 million and is the estimated increase in the number of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) globally, going from 35 million in 2010 to 200 million. This fast-growing popularity of SUVs is significant as they tend to consume more fuel and generate higher emissions than standard cars. The growing prevalence of SUVs more than offsets the emission savings being made by other car owners switching to electric vehicles, showing that for change to happen, discussion cannot be focussed only on encouraging people to buy alternatively fuelled vehicles. Our final statistic concerns the age-standardised death rate from air pollution which fell by 19% over the period 2007-2017. In fact, this reduction is not confined to the 10-year period covered by this statistic, since 1990 the number of deaths globally due to air pollution has nearly halved. This decline has primarily been driven by improvements in indoor air quality. Whether we are doing enough to reduce air pollution remains a fiercely contested topic, but this statistic shines an interesting light on a positive development. Many think that air quality is getting worse, but the number of deaths has actually fallen. 

These Statistics of the Decade highlight some of the key issues that have faced us over the last decade and we hope that they encourage you to stop and take some time to reflect on improvements that have been observed over the last ten years, but also to think about the challenges that still lie ahead. These statistics will no doubt generate much discussion and much debate, but that is, of course, what statistics are supposed to do! Here’s to 2020 and the next 10 years of statistics.