Capturing the Decade in a Statistic

In our last blog post, we discussed the winner of the Royal Statistical Society’s annual Statistics of the Year competition. With the start of 2020 and the end of a decade, the RSS also released their Statistics of the Decade. These are stand-out statistics that the judging panel felt captured the spirit of some of the biggest issues of the last ten years.

For the UK, the Statistic of the Decade was announced to be 0.3%: the estimated average annual increase in UK productivity in the decade or so since the financial crisis. To put this into context, this means that the UK has experienced its worst decade for productivity growth since the early 1800s, and it shows a marked difference from the level of productivity seen in the decade before the financial crisis (2%). As the Executive Director of the RSS explains, “Most people won’t have paid attention to a dull sounding number on productivity. But we think it is probably the most important UK statistic of the last decade as productivity is the single biggest key to our shared prosperity.”

We see a more positive message in one of the highly commended statistics: women now hold 30.6% of all board positions in the UK’s 350 biggest listed companies. This is up from just 9.5% in early 2011, a huge improvement over the last decade. This is an excellent illustration of what can be achieved when an issue such as this is highlighted and championed. The 30% club, in particular, was instrumental in championing and targeting improvements in FTSE100 companies.

The winner of the International Statistic of the Decade describes the deforestation in the Amazon rain forest. The deforestation in the last 10 years is around 24,000 square miles, which is a difficult size for anyone to truly visualise. The International Statistic of the Decade was 8.4 million: the estimated accumulated deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in terms of numbers of football pitches. By using something visual and familiar to peoples’ everyday lives, we are better able to really grasp the magnitude of the issue.

Professor Jennifer Rogers, chair of the judging panel and the RSS’s vice-president for external affairs, said: “Much has been discussed regarding the environment in the last few years, and the judging panel felt this statistic was highly effective in capturing one of the decade’s worst examples of environmental degradation.”

These statistics manage to take hugely important issues and encapsulate them into a single number with a clear message. They demonstrate that for issues that affect us all, how important it is to make statistics meaningful to everyone.