MOST PEOPLE use statistics, goes the old line, the way a drunk uses a lamp post -- for support rather than illumination. Certainly, this is true in Washington, which runs a massive trade surplus in the production of statistics.

Yet for all of Washington's obsessiveness about quantifying soybean crops in the Midwest and wheat harvests in the Ukraine, many take for granted the state of the place in which they live. Herewith, then, are some well-worn myths about Washington and some cold, hard statistical facts, drawn from marketing research and government sources, that may offer some illumination. There aren't any single men out there.

In fact, despite that oft-heard lament, this is actually a good place to be single and female. Of nearly 775,000 single, never-married adults over the age of 18 in the area, 400,000 are men, according to the Scarborough Report, a market-research study conducted annually. Put another way, there are 11 single, never-married men for every 10 single, never-married women.

Of course, raw numbers reveal very little about matters of the heart. The statistics don't tell how many of these single men are actually "eligible" -- that is, eligible given a woman's preference for a mate of the same racial group or of similar educational level, age, religious affiliation, etc. The odds of a woman finding a suitable mate here are further reduced by what is believed to be a higher proportion of gay men than gay women in the population. But even accounting for that, women still hold an advantage. Most people here are just passing through.

Politicians and diplomats maybe, but the transiency of the population may be overstated. Seven of every 10 people have lived here at least 10 years, and eight of every 10 have been here for more than five years.

To be sure, many are newly arrived. Scarborough's last survey showed that roughly one in five of the area's 2.7 million adults, about 560,000 people, moved here within the past five years, a period of dramatic economic growth. And if the economy doesn't completely drop off the table, it's a fair bet that most of these people are here for good. Women are at the bottom of the heap in the work force.

Employment data indicate that women have it better in Washington than in any other major metropolitan area in the country. True, women hold 85 percent of the clerical jobs here -- but many more women work in professional or managerial jobs (369,000) than in "administrative support" (249,000).

The myth of a "pink-collar" ghetto is further belied by the fact that a nearly equal percentage of women workers hold professional or managerial jobs as men (40 percent of all employed men fall into that category vs. 37 percent of all employed women). The center of the region is inside the Beltway.

Geographically, perhaps, but not according to other important measures.

Notwithstanding all the lip-service people in Washington pay to the concerns of those living "beyond the Beltway," most people in the area actually live "beyond the Beltway" themselves.

The Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA) for Washington, as the federal government has previously defined it, includes Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Alexandria as well as the District. Due to years of suburban sprawl, some 1.45 million people in the Washington SMSA now live outside the Beltway versus 1.25 million inside it. (The District, with 620,000 people, accounts for just 18 percent of the area's population. Most outside-the-Beltway population is concentrated in three Beltway-straddling counties: Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince George's.)

The same is true of the area's work force. While the District remains the single largest employment center, the bulk of the area's workers now commute to jobs in Rockville, Tyson's Corner, the Reston-Dulles corridor and other suburban areas. This is a one-industry town.

The federal government dominates much of the attention, and arguably much of the region's economic life is in some way dependent on government spending. But as a percentage of the work force, federal employees are a pretty small group -- about 16.7 percent of all local workers, says the D.C. Department of Employment Services. In addition, about two of every 100 local workers are military personnel. Washington is full of paper-pushers.

Yes and no. The Washington region has the highest proportion of white-collar workers (72 percent) and professionals and managers (40 percent) of any major market in the country.

But as of the end of November, there were 86,900 local workers employed in manufacturing industries, or 5.2 percent of the private work force, says the Department of Employment Services. That's more than all the workers employed in the transportation sector (59,400), finance (60,200), communications and public utilities (54,400), state government (83,900), education (44,200) and insurance and real estate combined (69,200). It is even more than -- this may be hard to believe -- the number of people working locally in the legal profession (41,600).

Manufacturing in this area, however, doesn't mean steel mills and auto plants. Typically, the classic Washington-area manufacturing company is engaged in some kind of light assembly work, for such products as soft drinks, electronics gear or even biotechnology. And, not surprisingly, publishing is a major enterprise in the area. The largest private manufacturer in the District? The Washington Post. The traffic stinks.

Depends on your perspective.

A majority of people (54 percent) told Scarborough that they spend less than 30 minutes getting to work -- not bad considering the area's sprawl and the horror stories about people rising at dawn to get to Washington from West Virginia. The average commute time in New York is 81 minutes -- highest in the nation, according to the Census Bureau.

On the other hand (is nothing simple?), more than three-quarters of all workers use a car as their primary means of getting to work, and only one in eight workers is in a carpool.

Further, only about 25 percent of the entire metropolitan work force of 2.25 million rides a Metro bus or the subway in a given week.

Some 23 percent, or nearly one in four adults here, is a member of a household with three or more cars. And you thought L.A. was bad?

Paul Farhi is a Washington Post reporter. David Barie is the newspaper's research development manager.