Are there really 50 flirty daters living near you? - Better check the Census

Mike Soper ponders the ONS consultation on the future of the Census

As part of their ‘Beyond 2011’ programme, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have been consulting with local authorities about the use we get from the census.  Potentially the breadth of coverage we get from the current census is at risk from 2021 onwards.

They are considering a range of options and although the subject sounds dull ONS will need to balance the needs of data users such as local authorities together with the public acceptability of the costs associated with gathering good quality data.  The results will have implications for all population-based statistics in England and Wales and, potentially, for the statistical system as a whole.

We’ve been provided a range of examples of where census information, particularly at a small area level, has been used to shape local services.  For example, small area data has been used to define service delivery areas such as school catchments, locality areas, children centre reach areas.

Which brings me to the flirty daters.  I listened to 5 Live Investigates, with Adrian Goldberg over the weekend.  Adrian talked to men who received flirty messages from attractive daters claiming to live near them after signing up for free membership of online dating sites.  After paying full membership to get in contact; the potential dates vanished.  One of the interviewees, using small area population data had been able to demonstrate that there couldn’t possibly be that number of women in the appropriate age range living near him.

A novel use of the data perhaps.  But it shows in a sideways sort of way that the lack of data and good quality information can allow general ignorance to spread though all walks of life, including the dating scene.  Any significant gaps created in available information as a result of ‘Beyond 2011’ could leave us in the situation of not knowing who or what to believe.