Monday, May 12, 2008

Today in misunderstood statistics

Today we will look at seemingly dire statistics that are actually in no way revealing as to the issue at hand. Our example is this website from the National Conference of State Legislatures on US state breastfeeding laws.

In the introductory paragraph, the site quotes stats from a New York Times Article:

"According to the New York Times, approximately 70 percent of mothers start breastfeeding immediately after birth, but less than 20 percent of those moms are breastfeeding exclusively six months later."

For those of you who may not know this, babies are generally introduced to solid foods at four to six months. That means that I would be SHOCKED if more babies were exclusively breastfed at six months. Now, this may actually mean the portion of the baby's diet that comes from breastmilk or formula, but that is not what they say. Breastfeeding support is shockingly low in this country, in large part due to our totally crappy maternity leave policies (look, people, what she said. And I don't even normally like all that much, but the whole bit I list below really resonates with me*), but this statistic is unrevealing as to the result of that lack of support.

*Here is the bit I list below: "But the news media and public policy makers still don’t see working families’ issues as economic or public policy questions. Consider: If fathers get pushed off the job, that’s discussed under the heading of labor, business, globalization, world trade, all public issues. But if mothers get pushed off the job—because jobs disappear or are redefined during her maternity leave, or because bosses stop promoting a woman with children on the assumption that she will soon refuse to travel or cut back or go part-time—if mothers get pushed off the job, that’s discussed as women making private emotional choices. How natural: She just wanted to stay home with her baby. In other words, women are seen as having personal lives even in the same arenas in which men are seen as having public lives. And that has consequences. When the demands facing working families are posited as personal issues for individual mothers rather than as a major public policy issue for a 21st century economy, each family must tackle these issues alone. This focus makes as much sense, according to media critic Caryl Rivers, as saying, “Okay, let’s build a superhighway; everybody bring one paving stone. That’s how we approach family policy. We don’t look at systems, just at individuals. And that’s ridiculous.”"

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