New month, new job! How I like my new job? Well, it might be a little early to say anything definite about it, but so far so good. I started with very little expectations, I thought it could very well be a job I would like, and that was about it. How exactly I would be spending my days was still somewhat unclear, but I assumed that time would tell. Two weeks in, I have a better idea of what the job is going to be like, and I must say, I really get more and more fascinated by statistics every day.
Coming from a Humanities background, doing statistical research was completely new to me. We historians don’t really do a lot of statistics and numbers, we prefer our written sources. I even mentioned these as my favourite type of sources during my interview (only to regret it 5 minutes later, thinking that it had potentially cost me the job..). So yeah, nothing obvious in this career move. I’m not working either on history or on the Middle East, as my degrees would have qualified me for. Instead I’m working on the Benelux, the Netherlands to be more specific. There will be a division of tasks later on when new people are hired, but as of yet I’m the entire Netherlands division by myself.
As the Benelux division was created just last month we really have to start from scratch collecting statistics. We started with the most important statistics describing a society: demography and politics. Rather unexpectedly maybe, I get particularly excited about the demography stats. Suddenly all of society’s problems, challenges and changes are caught in numbers and visualized in statistics. You see ageing pointed out by the increasing average age in the Netherlands, and by the ratio between the younger groups in society and the older ones. You see the increasing numbers of Muslims living in the Netherlands and the large number of asylum requests received in the last few years, and from which countries these migrants came. You notice children moving out at a younger age, families becoming smaller, and mothers becoming older when they get their first child.
Other stats turn more personal tragedy and happiness in numbers. What to think of all the hundreds of people that committed suicide last year? The infant mortality rate? Every number has its own story, and suddenly he or she is literally ‘nothing but a number’. I create statistics that tell you how often last year someone killed himself or herself by hanging, how many jumped from a height, and how many took drugs, alcohol or other medicines. A lot of grief must be behind these statistics. Luckily there are also more cheerful stats to balance this, of marriage and of births.
Medical developments become visible through statistics. The average age at death and the average life expectancy increase, the lethality of certain illnesses decreases. And really, things go extremely fast: the life expectancy really increases with years over a relatively short period of time. I didn’t think 10 years was a sufficient amount of time to trace development (that’s the historian in me), but sometimes really spectacular developments are visible in a time span of merely 10 years. Did you know for example that infant mortality decreased with hundreds of cases in the last 10 years, going down from 700 per year to a little over 300? We’re talking about a decrease of over 50% in just 10 years’ time, yay for medical science!
During job related workshops at university we were often encouraged to think about the added value of our field for our future employers. Back then I found it very difficult to pin-point what exactly differed the historian from other Humanities graduates. Almost a year after graduating I can finally say that I have discovered our added value: our long-term vision and eye for development. Working in a company were any data older than 10 years is considered historical and of limited interest to the customer, I not only create stats that include the most recent information, but also the developments from the first available numbers until today. Because developments over 10 years can be quite extensive, as the infant mortality figures show, but to get a really good picture of the situation we must look back into time and see where we came from. I bet that a comparison of numbers between infant mortality in the 1950s and infant mortality today would reveal even more spectacular developments in medical science!
Turning stories and numbers into statistics, that, in short, is how I make my living these days. Pretty awesome no? Oh, and should you think after reading all this ‘hey, that sounds cool, I want to do that too!!’, I am still looking for colleagues: just send me a message! See you soon in Hamburg?