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.
Excel, CSV, PDF
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).
OECDiLibrary is an e-library offering online access to all OECD books, reports, annuals, working papers, loose-leaf binders, periodicals and databases. The statistics service of iLibrary provides interactive access to the databases of both the OECD and the International Energy Agency (IEA). In addition to the databases, iLibrary Statistics also provides access to the statistical tables in OECD publications in exportable excel, PDF and database format.
Most of the datasets in the Statistics Portal cover the 30 member countries of the OECD. 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.
The documentation provided in the interactive databases is often very limited, so users must consult the original publication to find out what the statistics mean and how they are collected. The original publications can be accessed through OECD iLibrary. The OECD publishes many 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. In the Statistics Portal, the Statistical Methodology section contains links to several sources of documentation, e.g. an online Glossary of Statistical Terms, workshop documents, and methodological manuals (links provided below).
Access conditions and cost
Access to the databases is restricted to subscribers. Free trial periods are available. Users can either subscribe to the entire OECD iLibrary or specific datasets or publications, so prices vary significantly. See website for price lists (link provided in sources section).
The data can be accessed either as excel or PDF files, or through interactive databases. The databases can be accessed either by browsing various themes and publications or by using the search function.
The interactive databases are fairly straightforward to use and it is usually easy to find the variables you are looking for. A drawback is that identical or nearly identical variables are included in several databases, making it difficult for users to know which variable to use. This is problematic in cases where seemingly identical variables report different values for the same unit.In the dataset Labour Force Statistics – Summary Tables, the civilian unemployment rate in Sweden in 2005 is 7.8; in the dataset Economic Outlook No. 80 the unemployment rate is 5.8. It is difficult to see from the documentation why the discrepancy is so large.
Data can be downloaded in Excel, PDF and CSV format.
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.