Monday, October 29, 2012

A week like no other

With the hurricane and all, this week got weird in a hurry.  My darling husband is stuck in Chicago, so I chose to ride out the storm at a hotel with my in laws.  Turns out this is the hotel the electric company puts it's on call employees in, so I'm thinking we're keeping power.

Anyway, with all the record setting weather, I thought this post from statschat was particularly interesting.

Essentially, it backs up my previous gripes that people don't often accurately report what they spend their time on.  They included this graph from the Washington Post:
Essentially it categorizes how much people's reported hours differ from actual hours, and compares that to a more specific question of "how many hours did you work last week".  When you ask people for a specific week, they answer more accurately.  I thought it was interesting that people who work fewer hours actually tend to underestimate how much they work, as opposed to those who work long hours.  My guess is those at the lower end are not as driven to impress and thus don't worry about their number as much, whereas anyone putting in a long week wants full credit.  

I appreciated the comments on the Post article.  Many people pointed out that work hours and personal hours are getting more and more intertwined making these estimates much harder.  If I spend an hour at night working on emails in front of the TV, is that work time or TV time?  If I do work on the train ride home is that work time or commute time?  I can't be the only one asking these questions, and I do wonder how these surveys are capturing these things.

Regardless, statschat had a good comment on the concept of people "lying" about their hours: 
The Washington Post article that provided the graph says that people who claim to work long hours are “lying”, but it’s more complicated than that.  Presumably these are people who ‘typically’ work long hours but reasonably often have to leave work ‘early’ to handle some part of the rest of their lives.  Conversely, the people at the low end of the distribution may have a regular part-time job that provides their ‘usual’ hours of work, but fairly often have over-time or additional jobs so that the average week has more work than a ‘usual’ week.   They aren’t lying, they just aren’t answering the question you thought you wanted to ask.
The concept of people answering what they think you're asking or responding to different wording with different answers is something all survey makers should keep in mind.

Anyway, I'm sure for all my east coast readers, this will not be a "typical" exaggeration needed.  Stay safe everyone!

1 comment:

  1. That's a mostly-hypothetical assertion at the end.

    However, I could see how that situation would cloud the data. After all, if the person hearing the question has a more complicated situation than "working one job for a predictable number of hours every week", how can the person asking the question understand what answer they are getting?

    But there's still the possibility that another explanation fits the data. Or that multiple explanations explain different portions of the data.

    Because the real world is more complex than the model that generated these questions.