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Home arrow Environment arrow Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches
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VARIABLES

A variable is something that can take more than one value. The values can be words or numbers. If you ask a woman how old she was at her first pregnancy, the answer will be a number (16 or 40, or whatever), but if you ask her about her religion, the answer will be a word (‘‘Muslim’’ or ‘‘Methodist’’).

Social research is based on defining variables, looking for associations among them, and trying to understand whether—and how—variation in one thing causes variation in another. Some common variables that you’ll find in social research are age, sex, ethnicity, race, education, income, marital status, and occupation.

A few of the hundreds of variables you’ll see in anthropological research include number of children by each of several wives in a polygynous household, distance from a clinic or a market or a source of clean water, blood pressure, and level of support for various causes (the distribution of clean needles to drug addicts, the new farmer’s co-op, rebels fighting in Eritrea, etc.).

 
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