Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Statistical Rankings vs. Movable Feet

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Statistical Rankings vs. Movable Feet

Article excerpt

One of the really fun exercises in economic and social statistics is creating indexes for ranking people or places or things along some interesting dimension. Howard J. Wall recently took a close look at two published indexes that purport to measure the livability of American cities. Writing in The Regional Economist, a quarterly published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Wall was struck by the curious fact that "Although [the two] rankings consider the same general factors, their results are almost entirely uncorrelated. In the 1997 rankings, for example, there was no overlap whatsoever between [the top 10 cites in the respective rankings]."

The fact that there are such big differences in the findings suggests to Wall that users should be wary. Looking at the lists of variables typically used in this sort of exercise also causes Wall some concern: Who says these are the important factors? And even if they are the right factors, are they given the appropriate weights? Given these difficulties, Wall asks if it makes any sense at all to attempt ranking places on as subjective a matter as livability. …

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