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Statistics- Meaning, Definition, Characteristics and Aims

Statistics- Meaning, Definition, Characteristics and Aims

Meaning of Statistics

The term “statistics” is used in two senses: first in plural sense meaning a collection of numerical facts or estimates the figure themselves. It is in this sense that the public usually think of statistics, e.g., figures relating to population, profits of different units in an industry etc. Secondly, as a singular noun, the term statistics’ denotes the various methods adopted for the collection, analysis and interpretation of the facts numerically represented. In singular sense, the term ‘statistics’ is better described as statistical methods. In our study of the subject, we shall be more concerned with the second meaning of the word ‘statistics’.


Statistics has been defined differently by different authors and each author has assigned new limits to the field which should be included in its scope. We can do no better than give selected definitions of statistics by some authors and then come to the conclusion about the scope of the subject.

A.L. Bowley defines, “Statistics may be called the science of counting”. At another place he defines, “Statistics may be called the science of averages”. Both these definitions are narrow and throw light only on one aspect of Statistics.

According to King, “The science of statistics is the method of judging collective, natural or social, phenomenon from the results obtained from the analysis or enumeration or collection of estimates”.

Many a time counting is not possible and estimates are required to be made. Therefore, Boddington defines it as “the science of estimates and probabilities”. But this definition also does not cover the entire scope of statistics. The statistical methods are methods for the collection, analysis and interpretation of numerical data and form a basis for the analysis and comparison of the observed phenomena.

In the words of Croxton & Cowden, “Statistics may be defined as the collection, presentation, analysis and interpretation of numerical data”.

Horace Secrist has given an exhaustive definition of the term statistics in the plural sense. According to him, “By statistics we mean aggregates of facts affected to a marked extent by a multiplicity of causes numerically expressed, enumerated or estimated according to reasonable standards of accuracy collected in a systematic manner for a pre-determined purpose and placed in relation to each other”.

Characteristics of Statistics

This definition makes it quite clear that as numerical statement of facts, ‘statistic’ should possess the following characteristics-

  1. Statistics are aggregate of facts-

    A single age of 20 or 30 years is not statistics, a series of ages are. Similarly, a single figure relating to production, sales, birth, death etc., would not be statistics although aggregates of such figures would be statistics because of their comparability and relationship.

  2. Statistics are affected to a marked extent by a multiplicity of causes-

    A number of causes affect statistics in a particular field of enquiry, e.g., in production statistics are affected by climate, soil, fertility, availability of raw materials and methods of quick transport.

  3. Statistics are numerically expressed, enumerated or estimated-

    The subject of statistics is concerned essentially with facts expressed in numerical form with their quantitative details but not qualitative descriptions. Therefore, facts indicated by terms such as ‘good’, ‘poor’ are not statistics unless a numerical equivalent, is assigned to each expression. Also this may either be enumerated or estimated, where actual enumeration is either not possible or is very difficult.

  4. Statistics are numerated or estimated according to reasonable standard of accuracy-

    Personal bias and prejudices of the enumeration should not enter into the counting or estimation of figures, otherwise conclusions from the figures would not be accurate. The figures should be counted or estimated according to reasonable standards of accuracy. Absolute accuracy is neither necessary nor sometimes possible in social sciences. But whatever standard o accuracy is once adopted, should be used throughout the process of collection or estimation.

  5. Statistics should be collected in a systematic manner for a predetermined purpose–

    The statistical methods to be applied on the purpose of enquiry since figures are always collected with some purpose. If there is no predetermined purpose, all the efforts in collecting the figures may prove to be The purpose of a series of ages of husbands and wives may be to find whether young husbands have young wives and the old husbands have old wives.

  6. Statistics should be capable of being placed in relation to each other-

    The collected figure should be comparable and well-connected in the same department of inquiry. Ages of husbands are to be compared only with the corresponding ages of wives, and not with, say, heights of trees.

Aims of Statistics

The main aims of of statistics may be enumerated as follows-

  • To present facts in a definite form– Without a statistical study our ideas are likely to be vague indefinite and bazy, but figures helps as to represent things in their true perspective. For example, the statement that some students out of 1,400 who had appeared for a certain examination, were declared successful would not give as much information as the one that 300 students out of 400 who took the examination were declared successful.
  • To simplify unwieldy and complex data– It is not easy to treat large numbers and hence they are simplified either by taking a few figures to serve as a representative sample or by taking average to give a bird’s eye view of the large masses. For example, complex data may be simplified by presenting them in the form of a table, graph or diagram, or representing it through an average etc.

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