Friday, 6 August 2010

Responsible economic journalism shock

This easy-to-mock story about the "tax" on being single is notable in a couple of ways.

The first is that - for many - being single is a lifestyle willingly chosen. Perhaps there is a price tag on that choice, but that's different from a tax. £5,000 a year does seem like a lot, but for the luxury of choosing your own holiday destinations, spending all your free time in the way you want to, and designing your living environment entirely to your own tastes, it might be worth it.

The second is that the article contains a detailed methodological critique of its own argument.
But Stuart Adam, senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), doubts whether the situation is as clearcut as the study presents.
"The quarter of a million figure depends first on whether you believe their £5,000 a year finding and I'd need quite a lot of convincing that they'd got their methodology right"... It's even possible that the research is skewed because the type of person who becomes part of a couple is different from someone who stays single, he says.
And crucially it ignores the impact of benefits and tax credits, which usually favour single people, he says.
The article goes on to quote yet another expert casting doubt on the headline argument. In fact, there are as many words devoted to arguing against the premise as for it.

However, presumably the BBC thinks impressionable children - or Radio 4 listeners - are going to be reading this article. In the entire 1,300 words there is not one mention of single people having more sex. The closest is this tantalising hint from Hannah Betts, Times columnist:
"The one thing they do is have fun. I go out every night... Part of being single is having this carpe diem lifestyle - when you're single one's social life is one's life."

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