“Figures don’t Lie, but Liars Figure”

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 5th, 2014

Week in Review

There’s an old saying by Mark Twain that goes like this.  “Figures don’t Lie, but Liars Figure.”  Which basically means you can make statistical figures say anything you want them to say.  For example, here are two statistics that make it sound like black fathers are better parents than white fathers (see Harper’s Index posted April of 2014 pm Harpers Magazine).

Percentage of white live-in fathers who help their children with their homework daily : 28

Of black live-in fathers who do : 41

Almost half of all live-in black fathers help their children with their homework.  While only 28% of white live-in fathers do.  So black fathers are better parents than white fathers.  At least, these statistics would seem to say so.  But it’s what these statistics don’t say that will change the conclusion these two statistics appear to make.

First of all, children who receive more help with their homework will do better in school.  For their children will be doing their homework if their dad is there helping them.  So the homework is getting done.  And if children have trouble understanding something their dad is their clarifying and explaining things.  So these children are going to do better in school.  And a larger percentage of them will graduate from high school.  As students who work hard and do their homework are more likely to graduate than those who don’t.  So, do the statistics for high school graduation rates show that black live-in fathers are doing a better job helping their kids with their homework?  No.  According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (see National public high school graduation rate at a four-decade high by Lyndsey Layton posted 1/22/2013 on The Washington Post), high school graduation rates were 83% for whites and 66.1% for blacks.

Learning abilities are the same for both blacks and whites.  So you can’t say that whites are smarter than blacks.  So is there something else that can explain the difference in graduation rates?  Yes.  The inability to make kids do their homework.  For if they’re not doing their homework they’re not progressing through high school.  And many just drop out.  But according to the statistics more black live-in fathers are helping their kids with their homework than white live-in fathers.  So how is it that blacks have a lower high school graduation rate?  Because of something the statistics don’t show.

According to Census data (see Social and Economic Characteristics of Currently Unmarried Women With a Recent Birth: 2011 posted on census.gov), the percent of out-of-wedlock births was 29.2% for whites and 67.8% for blacks.  Less than a third of white children are born out-of-wedlock.  While just over two-thirds of black children are born out-of-wedlock.  To single mothers who struggle to both work and raise their children.  Leaving them little time to help them with their homework. And because these mothers are single and working their children may be home alone.  And more likely to get into trouble.  Not do their homework.  And drop out of school.

So the higher rate of children born out-of-wedlock would explain the lower high school graduation rates for black children.  While the percentage of black live-in fathers helping their children is skewed.  For it’s only 41% of the 32.2% (100% – 67.8%) of black fathers who stayed in the home to help raise their children.  While it’s 28% of the larger 70.8% (100% – 29.2%) of white fathers who stayed home to help raise their children.  (Assuming born in-wedlock means the same as live-in father.  Of course a child could be born in-wedlock only to see his parents divorce later making his or her mother a single mother.  However, with child support and alimony payments a percentage of these single mothers would not have to work and thus be able to spend more time with their child.  So a divorced mother probably would not have to struggle as much a single mother who was never married.  Especially if the divorced parents are older when they start their families and the husband has an established career providing the financial resources that allows the divorced mother to stay at home with the children).

Crunching these numbers for 1,000 fathers you get about 131 black fathers and 779 white fathers (blacks are approximately 13.1% of the population and whites are approximately 77.9%).  Of these 131 black fathers about 42 (32.2%) are live-in.  And of these 779 white fathers about 552 (70.8%) are live-in.  Bringing us to approximately 17 (41%) black live-in fathers who help their children with their homework.  And approximately 154 (28%) white fathers who help their children with their homework.

So, if you look at the total number of live-in fathers helping their children with their homework (17 and 154) the number of white live-in fathers doing so is approximately 793% greater than black live-in fathers.  Or for every black live-in father helping his child with his or her homework there are about 9 white live-in fathers helping their children.  Which sounds like white fathers are spending more time helping their children with their homework.  Which they are because there are more white fathers than black fathers.  In a random sample of 1000 fathers there would be approximately 6 white fathers for every black father.  Based on the demographics of the population.

So we have looked at statistics in numerous ways.  Proving once again that “figures don’t lie, but liars figure.”  Or that you can make statistics say anything you want them to say.  So you should always be suspect when people use statistics to support their argument.  Because there is a lot of interpretation the number crunchers make with the data.  A lot of assumptions.  And are often a selective and subjective in their use of the data.  Especially when it’s the government uses those statistics to justify new spending, new taxes, new regulations, etc.  Because these are the people who truly figure with the numbers.  They did it in the days of Mark Twain.  And they still do it today.

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