By Niels Hoven 23 Apr, 2009

With all the crises occurring around the world right now, you might think God has bigger things on his plate than getting you out of speeding tickets. Today, we will demonstrate otherwise.

The General Social Survey is a National Science Foundation project that asks people all sorts of interesting questions about their social attitudes, family structure, sex lives, and more. We had a good time visualizing the sex data last week, but for today we'll stick to the much more socially acceptable topic of religion (and traffic tickets).

Women receive far fewer traffic tickets than men

The data, culled from nearly 11,000 respondents is incontrovertible. Believers get fewer traffic tickets. But you've got to fully believe that the Bible is the actual literal word of God – people who think the Bible is merely the inspired word of God get just as many tickets as people who think it's no more than an ancient book of fables and legends.

Astute readers will complain that I am once again confusing causation and correlation. (See Losing Your Job Might Help Your Sex Life for an example of how much fun that can be.) They might argue that perhaps this correlation is caused by something entirely different, such as strongly religious people living in more rural areas, or driving less, or simply having personalities to begin with that are less prone to risky driving behaviors.

But they're missing the point. People shouldn't be changing their religious beliefs to get out of traffic tickets -- they should be considering a sex change. Look how many fewer tickets women get!

Women receive far fewer traffic tickets than men

Strongly religious women are of course the biggest winners, with two thirds of them reporting that they have never had a traffic ticket in their life.

Strongly religious women receive the fewest traffic tickets

Benjamin Franklin once said, "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Perhaps he enjoys getting us out of traffic tickets as well. Download the packaged workbook to explore the data for yourself.


Do you have a .twbx to go with this?

Personally, I don't think a series of pie charts is the best way to show this data. Maybe a series of bar graphs and a single overall pie chart with some interaction could tell the story from another view.

With a .twbx I could put together my own application of Tableau to this data and post it here.

Absolutely. Just posted the workbook, would love to see what you come up with.

The numbers don't add up. If the central chart is an overall average, how can 34% of men on average never have a traffic ticket, while subsets are all 34% or less? How can 70% of women have never gotten a ticket, while all subsets are less? Or are there more subsets not displayed, such as those who thing the bible is myths and fairy tales?

When I saw the first set of charts, I strongly suspected the literalists were simply bigger liars than the others.


Thank you for posting the data. Attached is my recreation of your above pie charts as a dashboard of bar charts. When I got to this point, I did not see a benefit from adding interaction or quick filters. It is nicer to be able to look at all the data at once, instead of scrolling to see what is going on (or I need a bigger monitor).

My caption in the attached dashboard:

It is clear to see two things:

1. Women consistantly get fewer tickets

2. People who believe the Bible is "Inspired Word of God" and "Fables and Legends" trend together.

(Trend 2 is no longer true when broken down by gender.)

I've also attached another with the count of records as the data labels instead of the percentages.

I was just comparing the percentages that Niels has and the ones I came up with, and the reason the "Gender vs Tickets" are different is because I use the same base filters for each of my charts.

Thanks for the new charts Joe! I think the bar graphs do work much better than my original pie charts.

On the comment that the "Inspired Word of God" and "Fables and Legends" groups don't trend together when broken down by gender - I'm not sure. Unfortunately, the sample size gets pretty small when the segmentation becomes that specific, so they might still be within a reasonable confidence interval of each other.

Jon - Nice catch. The General Social Survey asks different questions in different years. The Bible question was only asked in 1984, while the traffic ticket question was asked in 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980, 1982, and 1984. I chose to use the larger sample set for the middle chart. In retrospect, it was a lousy decision to have one chart based off of a different set of data. I've attached a second version below with the same filters as charts 1 and 3, which now aligns with Joe Mako's charts in the comments above.


Thank you for your comments :)

It is too bad this question was only asked in 1984, I would not trust any of these charts to be representative of all the source data (1972-2008), but just this one year.

I still do not think you are using the same filter to get your numbers: Men 25%/75% and Women 60%/40%, they are off by 1%, not a big deal with this small data set, but consistent filters is a good thing to pay attention to.

Aargh. I've learned my lesson on rushing my visualizations - just don't do it. The corrected chart (with the right filters this time) is attached below. Keep an eye out for a better performance next Friday, I feel like I've got some viz karma to make up now ;)

I was going to keep my mouth shut for once when I saw the pies in the original charts, because a pie showing two segments isn't totally junk. But Joe, you've demonstrated once again that bars are better than pies.

I find that having two different chart heights is confusing. Some would say that clustered bars is as effective as (or more effective that) stacked bars, but again, with only two items in the stack, it still works.

Niels -

Joe made two improvements:

1. He swapped out your pies for bars.
2. He used colors with less intensity for his chart area fills. I found it easier to gawk at his charts with light shades, whereas your darker hues made my eyes work harder. Perhaps the red and green also conflicted more in the darker shades.

So what's in store for next week? I've found these past two articles interesting.

Thanks for the advice and the compliment Jon! I've got a couple ideas that I'm working on for this week, but I'm not sure which one is going to make the cut yet...

Have you correlated with area of residence--are people who believe it's the literal word of God more likely to live in rural areas, which might separately correlate with fewer traffic tickets?

Naomi - as I mentioned in my post, I suspect geography would explain a lot of the correlation. Unfortunately, the publicly available GSS data doesn't include detailed geographic information, in order to protect people's privacy. We'll have to keep wondering or find a new data set...

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