Imagine 33 percent

This, from the New York Times Book Review, bugged me:

There are 33 percent more such women in their 20s than men. To help us see what a big difference 33 percent is, Birger invites us to imagine a late-night dorm room hangout that’s drawing to an end, and everyone wants to hook up. “Now imagine,” he writes, that in this dorm room, “there are three women and two men.”

It’s not so bad that the reviewer was confused about percentages; it’s that she went out of her way to explain what the percentage meant, and said something totally wrong.

I figured the mistake was probably inherited from the book under review, so I checked on Google Books, and nope; the book uses the example, but correctly, as an example of how to visualize a population with 50% more women than men!

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3 thoughts on “Imagine 33 percent

  1. Terence Tao says:

    Having 50% more women than men is equivalent to having 33% fewer men than women, so maybe the reviewer incorrectly assumed that percentage deviation was symmetric?

  2. NDE says:

    That’s what I guessed too.

    As Dave Barry once wrote: studies show that 74% of Americans — that’s nearly half! — have no sense of percentages and basic fractions.

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