Considering (mis-)representation in geodemographics and lifestyles

Users of (British) geodemographic products may encounter a problem of (mis-) representation giving rise to the ecological fallacy: the typologies give a socio-economic profile of the 1991 UK Census EDs, not a direct classification of individual consumers. Marketeers are increasingly looking to lifestyle databases as a solution, 'fusing' together dis-aggregate and diverse individual-level data to form composite datasets. This paper contends that too little is known (or, perhaps, admitted) about the sources of error and of sampling bias associated with this process. Potential errors are propagated by the fusion process and this can lead to a marked divergence between the characteristics of the 'digital personae' and the characteristics of the real-world individuals the data purportedly represent. Consequently, whilst lifestyle databases may provide potentially rich sources of micro-data for both geodemographic and social-scientific analysis, the fundamental issue of representation remains.