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The problem with “ghost statistics”

illustration of globe with books and a girl reading
(Illustration: Mark Dane / Getty Images)
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The problem with “ghost statistics”

Kathryn Moeller talks about a popular but inaccurate claim often used to push for investing in education for girls in low-income countries.

In a recent essay in The New Yorker, Kathryn Moeller examined the origins of an oft-cited but inaccurate statistic that women spend 90 percent of their income on their children, while men devote only about 30 percent. That statistic has been used repeatedly to make a case for the value of investing in girls’ education in low-income countries.

On this episode of School’s In, Moeller joined hosts Dan Schwartz and Denise Pope to explain how so-called “ghost statistics” actually hurt efforts for women’s empowerment.  

“We need to learn to be really careful with data in this moment when everything is data-driven,” said Moeller, a visiting assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Lemann Center for Educational Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Brazil. “What are the statistics we’re using? What are the stories those are telling? And do we know they’re true? These are hard conversations we need to be having, but I think they’re really necessary.”

She also expressed the need for more qualitative data. “We have good data on girls’ education that we can use to drive education policy globally,” she said. “But we also have an overreliance on quantitative data. In thinking about girls’ and women’s lives, educational experiences and outcomes, we often need more holistic tools for understanding that.”

You can listen to School’s In on SiriusXM Insight channel 121, Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud.

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