Department of Awful Statistics

That widely circulated map showing that the US "human development index" varies widely by state and, oddly enough, just happens to show that the most liberal states generally have the most developed human beings, turns out to be bunk.  I'll let James Joyner summarize:



It turns out that the "index" considers only three elements:  Life expectancy at birth, Adult literacy and education, and a variant of GDP per capita.   It turns out that the first two of these are so uniform across the 50 states as to be negligible, making the last the main determinant of the ranking.  Additionally, Mississippi's .799 makes it just barely fit into the arbitrary color breakdowns, making it appear to those looking at the map to be massively less "developed" than West Virginia and Louisiana, at .800 and .801, respectively.

What Gelman does not add is that "the natural logarithm of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in United States dollars" is actually a rather poor measure of "standard of living" given that it's not normalized for local housing prices.

Does anyone really think that there's a significantly different level of "development" between North and South Carolina?  Or that Michigan is better off than Missouri?

Joyner adds:  "This is yet another instance of a trend that I've long found aggravating: the ordinal ranking of relatively similar bodies to create the illusion of substantial disparity.  We usually see it in the form of international comparisons, which have the United States ranked 35th on some attribute despite being essentially the same as the country ranked 1st. "

Blue states are indeed richer.  But presumably the liberals who gave this map link love don't think per capita GDP is actually a really good measure of human development.




Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Why Principals Matter

Nadia Lopez didn't think anybody cared about her middle school. Then Humans of New York told her story to the Internet—and everything changed.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

A History of Contraception

In the 16th century, men used linen condoms laced shut with ribbons.

Video

'A Music That Has No End'

In Spain, a flamenco guitarist hustles to make a modest living.

Video

What Fifty Shades Left Out

A straightforward guide to BDSM

More in Business

Just In