Sunday, July 21, 2013
Averages, Statistics, and Exceptions
I realized something recently: I always assume that I am not like other Americans and that statistics and averages do not apply to me, but I’m not sure my children have absorbed the same mentality.
Maybe it started back in about 8th grade when Mrs. Plut had us do some kind of study of economics and took a raised-hands poll of how many of us owned which items that technically weren’t necessities.
TV? Everyone but me raised their hands.
Musical instrument? Ditto.
Up to this point she was counting the raised hands and writing down the total. She switched gears and said to raise your hand if you DON’T have this item in your home.
Sports Equipment? I was the only one raising my hand.
She had a very long list. It got to be very awkward and embarrassing for me and Mrs. Plut in particular but also for the others, who giggled either mockingly or sympathetically with each question.
When the ordeal was over I was left with a very distinct impression: I am not like normal, average American people. At all.
Ever since, I read statistics and assume they don’t apply to me.
“The average American eats 22.5 teaspoons of sugar a day." Pffffftt.
“The average American wedding cost $28,400 last year.” You have got to be kidding.
“The average American family has 1.8 children.” Chuckle.
“The average cost of raising a child is $222,360.” Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!
“98% of American households own a television set.” This one brings to mind the unfortunate telemarketer who called us and had Ben holler at him, “Well, we don’t have a TV and there’s only 2% of American households that don’t have a TV so bye!!”
“80% of Americans owe more than they own.” Yikes. That’s pretty scary and thankfully we have stayed in that elusive 20%.
The “typical” behavior of Americans overseas? God forbid that that applies to us.
“The average American reads only five books per year.” Which means our family reads as much as an entire town or at least a large neighborhood.
Our son Matt likes to talk about a lot of things, including demographic trends, statistics and girls. He attributes much of the difficulty of finding a good woman to patterns in modern society, such as the high number of women who want a career before marriage, pushing the average age of marriage to 27 for women, and the shocking statistic that 60% of college girls are into hooking up rather than real relationships. Then there’s the fact that 75% of divorces are instigated by women and the statistic of how often men lose their children and a lot of money in a divorce, and you have yet another trend of men avoiding marriage.
My reaction to this is usually, “But we are different. Statistics don’t apply to us. All you have to do is be an exception and find the one right exception for you.”
Except in his case, working in the middle of Washington, D.C., the statistics kind of apply after all, surrounded as he is by young women who are all about careers and obligation-free weekends together rather than commitment, marriage, permanence, children, and so on.
It makes me realize what a sheltered life we lead, rural and religious and out of the mainstream.
I don’t think we can conclude that no one should leave the farm to go to Paree. I just hope Matt can manage to defy the averages, always swimming upstream, even if it’s much harder to do so in the big city, away from the cultural and geographical setting he grew up in.
And of course, I hope he can someday find that one nice female fish who is swimming the same direction and they can raise a nice family with lots of little fishies who buy Goodwill clothes and don’t eat much sugar and read books instead of watching TV.
Because in this culture, to raise a child well is automatically to teach him or her to be an exception, even if everyone else in 8th grade laughs.