Renáta Németh, Dávid Simon
Some classic definitions:
’Social indicators are parts of system that ranges from observation to prognosis, from planning to the evaluation of the outcomes’ (Horn, 1993)
"Social indicators are numeric facts about a society" (Hauser 1975)
" Social indicators describe a social subsystem and serve as a tool for curiosity, understanding and action" (Stone 1975)
(In: Bukodi, 2001)
On the one hand, then, social indicators describe the state of a society and its subsystems, on the other hand they help set goals for intervention, and third, they help evaluate intervention. In Hungary, before 1989 planning was the main goal of using social indicators, after 2004 (the EU accession) the evaluating function has intensified significantly.
Expectations for social indicators:
they should describe the relevant set of social phenomena – a wide range of phenomena are measurable, but financial and time constraints force us to concentrate only on the relevant ones
they should be easy to interpret: very complex indices might make the indicators difficult to make sense of
they should be able to capture processes and changes: social and technological changes make it difficult to measure certain phenomena in time – what items could we use to create an index for the distribution of non-perishable goods for the past 100 years? It is therefore important that an index should have as long a recorded history as possible.
they should be suitable for comparisons between countries and regions (different institutional structure, for instance, makes comparisons difficult, e.g. primary education covers various durations in different countries
Expectations for social indicators (cont.):
they should describe the micro-level of individual welfare rather than social institutions (the first indicator systems would measure mostly institutions – individual-level studies are costly and might be too subjective)
they should measure the states and outcomes of the functioning of a society
they should attempt to capture both the objective and the subjective aspects of the phenomena they deal with – there can be significant difference between the interpretation of hard variables (e.g. income) and soft ones (such as subjective poverty)