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).
OECD.Stat is the OECD’s statistical warehouse and provides a single access point for statistical data and metadata. As of September 2009, the publicly available version of the database contained around 300 datasets. (Not all data are available to all users of the system.) OECD.Stat covers the following topics:
- General Statistics
- Agriculture and Fisheries
- Demography and Population
- Economic Projections
- Education and Training
- Industry and Services
- International Trade and Balance of Payments
- Monthly Economic Indicators
- National Accounts
- Prices and Purchasing Power Parities
- Public Sector, Taxation and Market Regulation
- Regional Statistics
- Science, Technology and Patents
- Social and Welfare Statistics
- Non-member Economies
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.
Each dataset in the database is linked to metadata. The detail of the metadata varies; in some cases it might be necessary to consult other OECD publications to find out what the statistics mean and how they are collected.
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
The database is available online, free of charge, but not all data are available to all users of the system.
The database is organised hierarchically, and you find datasets by browsing through themes and sub-themes. It is also possible to find datasets and variables by using the search function. A user guide available online explains how to use the database.
The database is fairly straightforward and intuitive to use; it is generally easy to find the data you are looking for. Users can create subsets of the data by specifying various dimensions, e.g. indicators, geographical units and time periods. Registered users can save queries for later use. As with the other OECD databases, a drawback is that there does not appear to be an easy way of creating a single dataset with variables from different datasets.
Data can be exported as Excel and TXT files.
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.