Improving Public Understanding of Economic Statistics: Presenting Labour Market Statistics to the Public (ESCoE DP 2022-26)

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Improving Public Understanding of Economic Statistics: Presenting Labour Market Statistics to the Public (ESCoE DP 2022-26)

By Jordan Whitwell-Mak, Jasmin Rostron

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Previous research has found that the UK public feel economics and economic statistics are communicated in a way that is difficult to understand. Producers of economic statistics primarily write for technical audiences, such as policy makers and economists, and not the general public. This research therefore explores how the Office for National Statistics (ONS) could potentially communicate statistics about the labour market directly to the general population, with the aim to improve public comprehension, engagement, and trust.

We developed alternative versions of the ONS Labour Market Overview, a summary of the latest labour market statistics released monthly on the ONS website, that were designed to be easier to read and understand for non-technical audiences. We then tested these summaries with the general public through an online randomised controlled trial (RCT) with 3,849 adults from across the UK in January and February 2022. We found that the alternative summaries outperformed the control version on comprehension, engagement and trust. These results show that relatively small changes to how the statistics are presented or discussed can result in improvements in public comprehension of, engagement with, and trust in economic statistics – all critical outcomes for a national statistical agency like the ONS.