Poor and uneducated – Call that lucky?

Lotto logoA story tucked away on the BBC new website a couple of days ago is entitled “Medway luckiest for lotto wins.”The story is about the “luckiest” place to buy a lotto ticket in the UK.

And how do they measure the value of “luck”?

Apparently the technique is, for a given town:

“based on the number of top prize-winning entries as a proportion of its adult population.”

Which might, as first glance, seem reasonable – or at least reasonable given the stupidity of trying to measure “luck” in the first place. Anyone with a passing knowledge of statistics will observe that even if you could measure something called “lotto luck”, this would not be a valid way to do it. A more sane measure would be to base it upon the number of top-winning tickets as a proportion of tickets bought in a given town. Anyway, let’s not get statistically pedantic, as the concept of measuring luck is daft anyway…

What stands out much more starkly from these statistics, yet is not mentioned at all in the report, is the nature of the “Top” list of locations thereby calculated. From the article:

  • Medway Towns
  • Ilford
  • Romford
  • Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • Dartford
  • Bradford
  • Teesside
  • Sunderland
  • Hull
  • Perth

What is outstanding about the list? Well, since we know that luck has nothing to do with it, areas with the highest ratio of winning tickets to population can be assumed to also have the highest ratio of tickets, winning or not, to population. Or, in other words, this list represents the areas where people buy the most lotto tickets, per head of population.

That being so it is notable that this list covers area that are “deprived”. “Deprived” is a politically-correct term meaning many things these days, but official government measures of (economic) deprivation include such things as:

  • Child benefits claimants
  • County Court judgements for debt
  • Income support claimants
  • Unemployment claimants
  • … and so on

Deprived areas would once have been called simply “poor” but one has to avoid that word these days, since it implies there’s no one to blame. Deprived is so much better at implying that someone or something has made these areas this way. Anyway, back to matters in hand.

My suspicion is that the areas where people buy most lottery tickets have a high proportion of uneducated, poor people, at least by comparison with the rest of the country.

Before seeing if this is so, why would I even suspect this? Basically because I believe the long-touted theory that a national lottery is a stealth tax on poor, less educated people. They simultaneously are more likely to lack the ability to understand how hopeless their chances of winning the jackpot really are, while more likely buying greater numbers of tickets in an attempt to reverse their financial situation. It’s not at all a new concept. But is there evidence for it?

But is it true?

So I set off to the UK Government’s own statistics web-site to see if there was any basis for my belief. Now as one moderately well-versed in the art of deception-by-statistics let me say that the range of statistics on that site would probably, if quoted selectively, permit one to prove just about anything you would choose. I really am trying to be honest here, and pick those which I genuinely think represent meaningful measures in the context of my inquiry.

A key measure of “poorness” is the proportion of people of working age who claim some sort of benefit from the state, ranging from unemployment benefit to income support. The statistical measures of education sets out to measure just that: education. We’re not measuring intelligence – no one says that the people in certain areas are less intelligent than those in others. I’m saying they are less educated (which is itself probably largely a consequence of the “deprivation”)

I chose two measures – while one relates to 15 year old school pupils and the other to those a couple of years older, they measure somewhat different groups: the 15 year-olds were required to attend school – How well do they do? The others opted to remain at school – How did they do?

  Town People of Working Age Claiming a Key Benefit (%) 15 Year Old Pupils Achieving 5+ A* – C (%) Students Achieving 3 or More A Grades at GCE/VCE A Level
  Medway Towns 13.00 55.20 6.40
  Ilford 13.00 70.50 8.00
  Romford 12.00 61.30 5.40
  Newcastle-upon-Tyne 19.00 56.70 3.80
  Dartford 11.00 64.30 5.90
  Bradford 18.00 51.10 5.70
  Teesside 18.00 55.90 5.60
  Sunderland 22.00 55.00 3.00
  Hull 21.00 51.90 3.80
  National 14.00 58.40 6.90

The measures for Perth were unavailable to me. And the last line, “National”, is the national average for all-England.

These measures suggest that my feeling may well be correct: these areas are significantly poorer than average and less well educated than average. It’s also worth noting that the apparent marginally “better” areas in the south of the country are rather flattered by being compared on a national scale. In fact if Romford, Ilford and Medway are compared not with the whole country but with their peer towns in the southern region they are also very much below average.


My suspicions are reinforced by this causal trawl through the figures – poorer and less educated people are disproportionately mugged by the lottery dream.

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