The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is an international organisation established in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It originates from the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation (OEEC), founded in 1948 to coordinate the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after second world war (Salzman 2000: 774-775). As of 2009, the OECD grouped 30 member countries, and had active relationship with some 70 other countries.
One of the main purposes of the organisation is to achieve the highest possible economic growth and employment and a rising standard of living in the member countries. As the OECD lacks the power to enforce its recommendations, it is essentially an advisory body. In part for this reason, the organisation is a major producer of statistics and macroeconomic analyses, covering economic and social issues from macroeconomics to trade, education and development. In many of these fields, the OECD has become an authoritative source of statistical data (Salzaman 2000: 778).
The OECD maintains several databases, covering a wide range of topics. Data can be accessed through four different portals on OECD’s website: Statistics Portal, OECD.Stat, SourceOECD and OECD Index of Statistical Variables (links provided in each of the separate reviews ). The four portals contain many of the same variables, but the interface, functionalities and download options vary. The portals are therefore examined separately. Most of the data are also published in printed publications, such as OECD Factbook, OECD in Figures and OECD Economic Outlook.
Data types and sources
The OECD publishes a variety of statistical data, mainly from official registers, administrative records, national accounts and censuses. Some statistics are also based on surveys and research programmes, such as labour force surveys and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
The Statistics Portal provides access to some OECD databases as well as extracts from all other databases, classified by topic. Many of the statistical tables made available through the Statistics Portal are reproduced from OECD publications, such as OECD Main Economic Indicators and OECD Country Statistical Profiles.
In addition to the wide range of dataset, the site offers publications covering comprehensive methodological discussions within each of the statistical areas covered.
Most of the datasets in the Statistics Portal cover the 30 member countries of the OECD, 23 of which are European. Some datasets also cover non-member countries, such as Brazil, China and Russia. The OECD also publishes some regional statistics.
Time coverage and updates
The time coverage varies: many of the key economic indicators are available from about 1960, while other indicators, such as obesity and reading test scores, are published only for more recent years.The dataset with the longest time scope is the Historical Statistics for the World Economy (Maddison 2001), which for some countries contains data from the year 1 AD. Some of the key economic indicators, such as GDP figures and unemployment rates, are updated several times a year, others annually. Some series are discontinued.
Data are documented in detail both online and in various printed publications. Each topic in the Statistics Portal usually contains links to methodological manuals, discussing issues of definition, data quality and comparability. However, the documentation is not presented in a standardised way across the various topics, so users must spend some time to get familiar with how the documentation is presented in each case.
The OECD also publishes reports and briefs on the comparability and quality of statistics. Some of these reports may be inaccessible to readers not familiar with the topic, but the OECD Factbook series contain some good summaries of definitions and issues of comparability. The Statistical Methodology portal contains links to several sources of documentation, e.g. an online Glossary of Statistical Terms, workshop documents and methodological manuals (links provided below). An overview of available statistics from the OECD can be found in OECD Statistics Catalogue (OECD 2005).
Access conditions and cost
Available free of charge.
The data are not published in a standardised online database. Rather, you access the various datasets by browsing through topics and subtopics. The datasets are presented in several different ways: as Excel files, on-screen tables or in PDF format. Some datasets are linked to the OECD.Stat database or other databases.
Since the datasets are not published in a uniform, standardised way, the Statistics Portal may be a bit unwieldy to use. By browsing through the topics you can usually find the statistics you are looking for. However, many of the datasets appear to be containing the same data, and it may take some time to find out what, if anything, distinguishes them from each other.
Many of the datasets are presented as predefined tables, hence it is not possible to manipulate the data or create subsets of them. In the cases where datasets are accessed though other OECD databases, increased functionalities may be available.
Data are mainly published in Excel format. Some tables are only published as PDF documents.
Comparability and data quality
The OECD (2003: 2) prides itself of producing, in some areas, statistics that “are internationally recognised as the ‘best’ in terms of coverage, timeliness, and comparability.” Furthermore, the improvement of the data quality is seen as a key objective at the OECD and was one of the main aims of the OECD Statistics Strategy (OSS) launched in 2001 (ibid: 5). Nonetheless, even though data are presented as comparable in standardised tables, some problems of comparability are likely to remain. The progress of the OSS can be traced at the OECD Statistical Programme of Work website (link provided below).
Maddison, Angus. 2001. The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Paris: OECD Development Centre Seminars.
OECD. 2003. Quality Framework and Guidelines for OECD Statistical Activities, Version 2003/1. Paris: OECD Statistics Directorate.
Salzman, James. 2000. “Labor rights, globalization and institutions: the role and influence of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development”. Michigan Journal of International Law 21 (Summer): 769-848.