Range Matters: Rural Averages Can Conceal Important Information


Researchers often use averages to describe data. The average (or the mean) of a data set can be used to identify the central value of the group, or what is typical. While valuable, it's also important to understand the range of data—the highs and lows. What might we miss by focusing on the average?

This short brief uses three examples to demonstrate how focusing on averages without also considering the data range can conceal important information: 1) average rural hospital profitability, 2) distance from closed rural hospitals to the next closest hospital, and 3) HIV prevalence by county. The examples look at conclusions that might be drawn from commonly used indicators.

North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center
Meagan Clawar, Kristie Thompson, George Pink