In the second part of our focus on the Office for National Statistics, Kimberley Barber reports on how data helps make important decisions.
They are three of the most important things in life.
And each time they happen, workers at the Office for National Statistics in Titchfield are busy making a note.
As it’s not only the census put together by the 900-odd workers, they also have a birth, death and marriage department.
I took a visit to the office and catch up with Nicola Haines, senior research officer, and Pete Matthews, research officer, (both pictured) to find out what they are doing on a daily basis.
Nicola, from Fareham, has worked at ONS for 12 years.
She says the most well-known part of their job is the list of baby names which is released every August.
It documents the growing trends and has seen the likes of Draco, Sirius and Bellatrix creep on to the list.
Nicola says: ‘We have a lot of expectant parents looking at the baby name list. And people are always interested in where their name lies on the popularity list.’
Contrary to lists released from other companies, Oliver and Amelia were top spots respectively on the last list.
Nicola says: ‘Ours are based on the information recorded when a birth is registered, so we have the recorded information. A lot of the other lists are based on surveys or they collate variations together.
‘We do every distinct name exactly how the spelling appears as it can be so subjective. Somebody could group the names together such as Kate and Catherine, but whatever you do someone will want it grouped differently so we just work on the exact spelling.’
And it’s not just baby names, the department monitors births, deaths and marriages, which are all important figures when you consider how to plan for government spending.
Nicola says: ‘It’s important for onward use for planning, helping to formulate policy and monitoring things like child mortality for government targets.
‘Then there’s looking at teenage pregnancy and looking at deaths, such as bird flu.
‘Everyone worried there would be increase in deaths caused by it, but we can look at it and work out how big the problem actually is.
‘Academics are also looking at changes in lifestyle and seeing how that has affected the way that we die.’
All the statistics produced from ONS are produced using administrative data.
Nicola says: ‘They are collected from administration like when births or deaths are registered, which is required by law.
‘That’s the best way of getting the stats. However, you do then have the limit of the fact we only have the information given at the point of registration.
‘We don’t have the variables which people can often be just as interested in.
‘We do have other ways of getting variables, for instance we can link the child mortality and we can link infant death records back to their birth registration and link information on that.’
And it’s not just the government interested in these statistics – they are used by a range of companies and charities.
Pete, who has worked at ONS for five years, says: ‘Some commercial organisations are interested in bits of our data, such as baby names for name-related products.
‘Our figures also feed into other figures produces at ONS.
‘For instance our birth and death figures feed into the population estimate.
‘That then goes towards allocating government funding for local authorities and projections for schools and hospitals.’
Nicola and Pete show me the interactive content on the ONS website, which shows all the statistics in a fun way and I’m surprised when we watch the interactive total fertility rate graph and see it actually growing over recent years.
Nicola explains: ‘In 2001 the total fertility rate was showing at a recent low point but since then it’s been going up. Previously women on average were having fewer children and now that’s increased to about 1.9 per person at the moment.’
Pete says: ‘It’s looking like it may start to tail off but it has certainly increased over the last 10 years.
‘We saw the first significant fall in births in 2013 for a number of years.
‘That may be a one off, or it may be the start of a change we just do not know yet.’
The total fertility rate is a good example of how these figures can help to shape important decisions.
Without having some idea of how the population is changing then it would be impossible to plan.
And we all know the old military adage – Proper Planning, Preparation and Practice Prevents Poor Performance.
Five facts about baby names from ONS
1. A baby girl born in 2013 was more likely to have a unique name than a baby boy.
The range of different girls’ names tends to be wider than the range of different names given to boys. However, the range of different names has been increasing over time for baby boys and girls. This is partly explained by an increase in hyphenated names. For example, in 2013 there were 324 different examples of hyphenated boys’ names given to 3 or more boys, up from just 54 in 2003.
2. A royal flush. William, Harry and George jostle for first place in the top 10 names given to boys in 2013.
These names are classic names for boys that have been consistently popular over the last decade and for most of the twentieth century. We are perhaps yet to see the full impact that Prince George will have on the popularity of his name as he was only born halfway through 2013.
3. The Harry Potter effect - Draco, Sirius and Bellatrix have all appeared on the baby names lists.
While it is harder to see the impact that JK Rowling’s books have had on the popularity of Harry and Ron, it is clear to see the impact of her more inventive names. It is also worth remembering that ONS does not publish names given to 1 or 2 babies, so if you know a Tonks, Marvolo or Regulus that’s probably why they don’t make the list.
4. Cristiano and Thierry both have peaks that correspond with Ronaldo and Henry’s times at English football clubs.
Cristiano peaked in 2007, the first time he won the Premier League with Manchester United. Thierry peaked a little earlier, corresponding with Arsenal’s “invincible” season (where they were unbeaten for the whole 2003-2004 season).
5. Which Beckham baby had the biggest impact on baby names?
While all Beckham children appear to have had an impact on the popularity of their name, Harper has had a bigger impact than all of her brothers.
2014 results are due for release from ONS this August.
Five facts about young people from ONS
1. 12 per cent of the population in England and Wales were aged 16-24 in 2011, down from 16 per cent in 1911.
The most recent census data tells us there were 6.7m people aged 16 to 24 in England and Wales in 2011, which was 12 per cent of the total population.
In 1911, 16 per cent of the population were aged 16-24 but this percentage fell during the 20th century.
2. In 2012, 14 per cent of brides were under 25, compared with 76 per cent in the late 1960s.
In the years from 1966 to 1970, the percentage of brides under 25 reached a peak of 76 per cent. For grooms the peak came in 1970 and was lower, at 62 per cent.
These percentages have since fallen substantially and the most recent provisional figures for 2012 show 14 per cent of brides and 8 per cent of grooms were under 25 in England and Wales.
3. Four per cent of live births in 2013 were to mothers aged under 20, the same as in 1938
In 1938, four per cent of all live births in England and Wales were to mothers under 20.
In 1972 this figure reached a high of 11 per cent before returning to four per cent in 2013.
4. The number of young people aged 16-24 in full-time education more than doubled between 1984 and 2013.
In 1984, 17 per cent of young people aged 16-24 in the UK were in full-time education.
In 2013 this had more than doubled 42 per cent.
5. 955,000 young people in the UK were Not in Education Employment or Training (NEET) in 2014. In April-June 2014, 955,000 people aged 16-24 were NEET in the UK. This has been falling steadily over the past year, in April-June 2013, 1.092 million young people were NEET. However, it is important to note that the fall of 138,000 in the total number of young people who were NEET over the past year may partly reflect the decrease of 31,000 in the overall number of young people.
The Office for National Statistics is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK.
It is responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels and also conducts the census in England and Wales every 10 years.
It is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority and although they are separate, they are closely related.
ONS has three sites – Titchfield, Newport and London.
It publishes its figures and graphs online at ons.gov.uk
Next Tuesday’s Agenda in The News will be looking at how the ONS deals with crime statistics and what it does with that information.
For more information visit www.ons.gov.uk