Addition & Subtraction

Fundamentals of Social Statistics by Adam J. McKee

Delving into social science statistics, we often find ourselves swamped with data, patterns, and correlations. However, at the heart of all these complex analyses lie the basic mathematical operations we learned as children: addition and subtraction. Let’s revisit these foundational concepts, understanding them in the context of social science research.


Addition, at its core, is about combining numbers. In social science research, addition is often used when aggregating data or finding total counts.

The Symbol of Addition

The ‘+’ sign represents the addition. It serves as a bridge, connecting disparate data points into a cohesive whole.

Example of Addition in Social Science

Imagine conducting a survey on the number of people who prefer urban living over rural settings. You find that 150 people prefer urban settings from one sample and 250 from another sample. To find out the total number, you would add the two together:

150 (sample 1) + 250 (sample 2) = 400 people preferring urban living.

Subtraction in Social Data Analysis

Subtraction, in contrast, is about finding differences or deficits in numbers. In social sciences, it’s often used to identify disparities or calculate declines or increases in particular metrics.

The Symbol of Subtraction

The ‘-‘ symbol stands for subtraction. It signals a reduction or a comparison between two sets of data.

Example of Subtraction in Social Science

Suppose you’re studying the monthly income of a particular community before and after a policy change. Before the policy, the average monthly income was $2,500, and after the policy, it rose to $2,800. To find the difference:

$2,800 (post-policy) – $2,500 (pre-policy) = $300 increase in monthly income.

Interpreting Results: Total and Disparity

In social science statistics, understanding the results is key. When you add numbers, the final figure you arrive at is known as the ‘total’ or aggregate. Meanwhile, when you subtract one figure from another, what you determine is often referred to as the ‘disparity’ or difference.

Keep in Mind:

  • The result of adding numbers in social science? We often call it an aggregate, sum, or total.
  • The result of subtracting? It reflects a disparity or difference.

Final Thoughts

Social science research often requires intricate statistical tools and methods, but it’s essential not to lose sight of the basic mathematical operations that underpin them. Addition and subtraction are integral to data analysis, helping researchers to aggregate findings or identify disparities. By mastering these basics, budding social scientists can ensure their research is built on a solid mathematical foundation.

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Last Modified:  08/18/2023

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