Official statistics are
statistics Statistics (from German: '' Statistik'', "description of a state, a country") is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industr ...
published by
government agencies A government or state agency, sometimes an appointed commission, is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of government that is responsible for the oversight and administration of specific functions, such as an administratio ...
or other public bodies such as international organizations as a public good. They provide quantitative or qualitative information on all major areas of citizens' lives, such as economic and social development, living conditions,
health Health, according to the World Health Organization, is "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity".World Health Organization. (2006)''Constitution of the World Health Organi ...
education Education is a purposeful activity directed at achieving certain aims, such as transmitting knowledge or fostering skills and character traits. These aims may include the development of understanding, rationality, kindness, and honesty. Var ...
, and the environment. During the 15th and 16th centuries, statistics were a method for counting and listing populations and State resources. The term ''statistics'' comes from the
New Latin New Latin (also called Neo-Latin or Modern Latin) is the revival of Literary Latin used in original, scholarly, and scientific works since about 1500. Modern scholarly and technical nomenclature, such as in zoological and botanical taxonomy a ...
''statisticum collegium'' (council of state) and refers to ''science of the state''. According to the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; french: Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques, ''OCDE'') is an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate ...
, official statistics are statistics disseminated by the national statistical system, excepting those that are explicitly not to be official". Governmental agencies at all levels, including municipal,
county A county is a geographic region of a country used for administrative or other purposesChambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
, and state administrations, may generate and disseminate official statistics. This broader possibility is accommodated by later definitions. For example: Official statistics result from the ''collection and processing of data'' into statistical information by a government institution or international organisation. They are then disseminated to help users develop their knowledge about a particular topic or geographical area, make comparisons between countries or understand changes over time. Official statistics make information on economic and social development accessible to the public, allowing the impact of government policies to be assessed, thus improving accountability.


Official statistics provide a picture of a country or different phenomena through data, and images such as
graph Graph may refer to: Mathematics *Graph (discrete mathematics), a structure made of vertices and edges **Graph theory, the study of such graphs and their properties *Graph (topology), a topological space resembling a graph in the sense of discre ...
and maps. Statistical information covers different subject areas (
economic An economy is an area of the production, distribution and trade, as well as consumption of goods and services. In general, it is defined as a social domain that emphasize the practices, discourses, and material expressions associated with th ...
demographic Demography () is the statistical study of populations, especially human beings. Demographic analysis examines and measures the dimensions and dynamics of populations; it can cover whole societies or groups defined by criteria such as ed ...
, social etc.). It provides basic information for
decision making In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision making and decisionmaking) is regarded as the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several possible alternative options. It could be either rati ...
, evaluations and assessments at different levels. The goal of statistical organizations is to produce relevant, objective and accurate statistics to keep users well informed and assist good policy and decision-making.

Various categories

''The Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics'' were adopted in 1992 by the
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE or UNECE) is one of the five regional commissions under the jurisdiction of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It was established in order to promote economic cooperation and ...
, and subsequently endorsed as a global standard by the United Nations Statistical Commission. According to the first Principle "Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation". The categorization of the domains of official statistics has been further developed in the Classification of Statistical Activities, endorsed by the Conference of European Statisticians and various other bodies.

Most common indicators used in official statistics

Statistical indicators provide an overview of the social, demographic and economic structure of society. Moreover, these indicators facilitate comparisons between countries and regions. For population, the main indicators are: * Total population * Population density * Population by age *
Life expectancy Life expectancy is a statistical measure of the average time an organism is expected to live, based on the year of its birth, current age, and other demographic factors like sex. The most commonly used measure is life expectancy at birth ...
at birth and at age 65 * Foreign born * Foreigners in population *
Total fertility rate The total fertility rate (TFR) of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if: # she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) through her lifetime # she were t ...
Infant mortality Infant mortality is the death of young children under the age of 1. This death toll is measured by the infant mortality rate (IMR), which is the probability of deaths of children under one year of age per 1000 live births. The under-five morta ...
The gender statistics include: * Women in labour force * Gender pay gap In the employment category: * Employment rate *
Unemployment rate Unemployment, according to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), is people above a specified age (usually 15) not being in paid employment or self-employment but currently available for work during the refere ...
* Youth unemployment rate * Economic activity rate (women and men) * Employment in major sectors: agriculture, industry, services There are many indicators for the economy: *
Gross Domestic Product Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced and sold (not resold) in a specific time period by countries. Due to its complex and subjective nature this measure is of ...
* Gross Domestic Product per capita * Real GDP growth rate * GDP by major economic sectors: agriculture, industry, services *
Consumer price index A consumer price index (CPI) is a price index, the price of a weighted average market basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households. Changes in measured CPI track changes in prices over time. Overview A CPI is a statisti ...
Purchasing Power Parity Purchasing power parity (PPP) is the measurement of prices in different countries that uses the prices of specific goods to compare the absolute purchasing power of the countries' currencies. PPP is effectively the ratio of the price of a baske ...
Exchange rate In finance, an exchange rate is the rate at which one currency will be exchanged for another currency. Currencies are most commonly national currencies, but may be sub-national as in the case of Hong Kong or supra-national as in the case of t ...
* Gross external debt For trade indicators we find: * Exports of goods and services * Imports of goods and services *
Balance of payments In international economics, the balance of payments (also known as balance of international payments and abbreviated BOP or BoP) of a country is the difference between all money flowing into the country in a particular period of time (e.g., a ...
* Trade balance * Major import partners * Major export partners Environment indicators: * Land use * Water supply and consumption * Environmental protection expenditure * Generation and treatment of waste * Chemical use For the energy field: * Total energy consumption * Primary energy sources * Energy consumption in transport * Electricity consumption * Consumption of renewable energy sources


Official statistics are intended for a wide range of users including governments (central and local), research institutions, professional statisticians, journalists and the media, businesses, educational institutions and the general public. There are three types of users: those with a general interest, business interest or research interest. Each of these user groups has different needs for statistical information.

Users with a general interest

''Users with a general interest'' include the media, schools and the general public. They use official statistics in order to be informed on a particular topic, to observe trends within the society of a local area, country, region of the world.

Users with a business interest

''Users with a business interest'' include decision makers and users with a particular interest for which they want more detailed information. For them, official statistics are an important reference, providing information on the phenomena or circumstances their own work is focusing on. For instance, those users will take some official statistics into consideration before launching a product, or deciding on a specific policy or on a
marketing strategy Marketing strategy allows organizations to focus limited resources on best opportunities to increase sales and achieve a competitive advantage in the market. Strategic marketing emerged in the 1970s/80s as a distinct field of study, further buil ...
. As with the general interest users, this group does not usually have a good understanding of statistical methodologies, but they need more detailed information than the general users.

Users with a research interest

''Users with a research interest'' are universities, consultants and
government agencies A government or state agency, sometimes an appointed commission, is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of government that is responsible for the oversight and administration of specific functions, such as an administratio ...
. They generally understand something about statistical methodology and want to dig deeper into the facts and the statistical observations; they have an analytical purpose in inventing or explaining interrelations of causes and effects of different phenomena. In this field, official statistics are also used to assess a government's policies. One common point for all these users is their need to be able to trust the official information. They need to be confident that the results published are authoritative and unbiased. Producers of official statistics must maintain a reputation of professionalism and independence. The statistical system must be free from interference that could influence decisions on the choice of sources, methods used for '
data collection
'', the selection of results to be released as official, and the timing and form of '
''. Statistical business processes should be transparent and follow international standards of good practice. Statistical programs are decided on an annual or multi-annual basis by governments in many countries. They also provide a way to judge the performance of the statistical system.

Producers at the national level

Official statistics are collected and produced by national statistical organisations (NSOs), or other organisations (e.g. central banks) that form part of the national statistical system in countries where statistical production is de-centralized. These organisations are responsible for producing and disseminating official statistical information, providing the highest quality data. Quality in the context of official statistics is a multi-faceted concept, consisting of components such as relevance, completeness, timeliness, accuracy, accessibility, clarity, cost-efficiency, transparency, comparability and coherence. The core tasks of NSOs, for both centralized and decentralized systems, are determining user needs and filtering these fo
Then they transform the relevant user needs into measurable concepts to facilitate data collection and dissemination. The NSO is in charge of the coordination between statistical producers and of ensuring the coherence and compliance of the statistical system to agreed standards. The NSO has a coordination responsibility as its President/Director General represents the entire national system of official statistics, both at the national and at international levels.

Production process

The production process of official statistics comprises 8 phases, as documented in th
Generic Statistical Business Process Model (GSBPM)
* Specify Needs * Design * Build * Collect * Process * Analyse * Disseminate * Evaluate

Data revision

Even after they have been published, some official statistics may be revised. Policy-makers may need preliminary statistics quickly for decision-making purposes, but eventually it is important to publish the best available information, so official statistics are often published in several 'vintages'. In order to understand the accuracy of economic data and the possible impact of data errors on macroeconomic decision-making, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has published a dataset that records both initial real-time data estimates, and subsequent data revisions, for a large number of macroeconomic series. A similar dataset for Europe has been developed by the Euro-Area Business Cycle Network.

Data Sources

There are two sources of data for statistics. Primary, or "statistical" sources are data that are collected primarily for creating official statistics, and include statistical surveys and censuses. Secondary, or "non-statistical" sources, are data that have been primarily collected for some other purpose (administrative data, private sector data etc.).

Statistical survey or sample survey

statistical survey Survey methodology is "the study of survey methods". As a field of applied statistics concentrating on human-research surveys, survey methodology studies the sampling of individual units from a population and associated techniques of survey d ...
or a sample survey is an investigation about the characteristics of a phenomenon by means of collecting data from a sample of the population and estimating their characteristics through the systematic use of statistical methodology. ** The main advantages are the direct control over data collection and the possibility to ask for data according to statistical definitions. ** Disadvantages include the high cost of data collection and the quality issues relating t
and survey errors. There are various survey methods that can be used such as direct interviewing, telephone, mail, online surveys.


census A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring, recording and calculating information about the members of a given population. This term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses incl ...
is a complete enumeration of a population or groups at a point in time with respect to well-defined characteristics (population, production). Data are collected for a specific reference period.
census should be taken at regular intervals
in order to have comparable information available, therefore, most statistical censuses are conducted every 5 or 10 years. Data are usually collected throug
mailed to respondents, via the Internet, or completed by a
visiting respondents, or contacting them by telephone. ** An advantage is that censuses provide better data than surveys for small geographic areas or sub-groups of the population. Census data can also provide a basis for sampling frames used in subsequent surveys. ** The major disadvantage of censuses is usually the high cost associated with planning and conducting them, and processing the resulting data. In 2005, th
United Nations Economic and Social Council
adopted a resolution urging: "Member States to carry out a population and housing census and to disseminate census results as an essential source of information for small area, national, regional and international planning and development; and to provide census results to national stakeholders as well as the United Nations and other appropriate intergovernmental organizations to assist in studies on population, environment, and socio-economic development issues and programs".


A register is a database that is updated continuously for a specific purpose and from which statistics can be collected and produced. It contains information on a complete group of units. ** An advantage is the ''total coverage'' even if collecting and processing represent ''low cost''. It allows producing more detailed statistics than using surveys. Different registers can be combined and linked together on the basis of defined keys (personal identification codes, business identification codes, address codes etc.). Moreover, individual administrative registers are usually of high quality and very detailed. ** A disadvantage is the ''possible under-coverage'' that can be the case if the incentive or the cultural tradition of registering events and changes are weak, if the classification principles of the register are not clearly defined or if the classifications do not correspond to the needs of statistical production to be derived from them. There are different types of registers: →
Administrative registers
' or ''records'' can help the NSI in collecting data. Using the existing administrative data for statistical production may be approved by the public because it can be seen as a cost efficient method; individuals and enterprises are less harassed by a response burden
data security
is better as fewer people handle it and data have an electronic format. →''Private registers'' such as registers operated by insurance companies and employer organizations can also be used in the production process of official statistics, providing there is an agreement or legislation on this. →''Statistical registers'' are frequently based on combined data from different administrative registers or other data sources. →For businesses, it is often legally indispensable to be registered in their country to a ''business register'' which is a system that makes business information collection easier. →It is possible to find '' agricultural registers'' and ''registers of dwellings''. Even though different types of data collection exist, the best estimates are based on a combination of different sources providing the strengths and reducing the weakness of each individual source.

Official Statistics presentation

Official statistics can be presented in different ways. Analytical texts and tables are the most traditional ways. Graphs and
charts A chart (sometimes known as a graph) is a graphical representation for data visualization, in which "the data is represented by symbols, such as bars in a bar chart, lines in a line chart, or slices in a pie chart". A chart can represent t ...
summarize data highlighting information content visually. They can be extremely effective in expressing key results, or illustrating a presentation. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Graphs and charts usually have a heading describing the topic. There are different types of graphic but usually the data determine the type that is going to be used. * To illustrate changes over time, a ''
line graph In the mathematical discipline of graph theory, the line graph of an undirected graph is another graph that represents the adjacencies between edges of . is constructed in the following way: for each edge in , make a vertex in ; for every ...
'' would be recommended. This is usually used to display variables whose values represent a regular progression. * For categorical data, it is better to use a '' bar graph'' either vertical or horizontal. They are often used to represent percentages and rates and also to compare countries, groups or illustrate changes over time. The same variable can be plotted against itself for two groups. An example of this is the age pyramid. * '' Pie chart'' can be used to represent share of 100 per cent. Pie charts highlight the topic well only when there are few segments. * '' Stacked bar charts'', whether vertical or horizontal, are used to compare compositions across categories. They can be used to compare percentage composition and are most effective for categories that add up to 100 per cent, which make a full stacked bar chart. Their use is usually restricted to a small number of categories. * ''Tables'' are a complement to related texts and support the analysis. They help to minimize numbers in the description and also eliminate the need to discuss small variables that are not essential. Tables rank data by order or other hierarchies to make the numbers easily understandable. They usually show the figures from the highest to the lowest. * Another type of visual presentation of statistical information is ''
thematic map A thematic map is a type of map that portrays the geographic pattern of a particular subject matter (theme) in a geographic area. This usually involves the use of map symbols to visualize selected properties of geographic features that are no ...
''. They can be used to illustrate differences or similarities between geographical areas, regions or countries. The most common statistical map that is used is called the
choropleth map A choropleth map () is a type of statistical thematic map that uses pseudocolor, i.e., color corresponding with an aggregate summary of a geographic characteristic within spatial enumeration units, such as population density or per-capita inc ...
where different shades of a colour are used to highlight contrasts between regions; darker colour means a greater statistical value. This type of map is best used fo
data but for other data, proportional or graduated symbol maps, such as circles, are preferred. The size of the symbol increases in proportion to the value of the observed object.


Official statistics are part of our everyday life. They are everywhere: in newspapers, on television and radio, in presentations and discussions. For most citizens, the media provide their only exposure to official statistics. Television is the primary news source for citizens in industrialized countries, even if radio and newspapers still play an important role in the dissemination of statistical information. On the other hand, newspapers and specialized economic and social magazines can provide more detailed coverage of statistical releases as the information on a specific theme can be quite extensive. Official statistics provides us with important information on the situation and the development trends in our society. Users can gather information making use of the services of the National Statistical Offices. They can easily find it on the agency's website. The development of computing technologies and the Internet has enabled users - businesses, educational institutions and households among others- to have access to statistical information. The Internet has become an important tool for statistical producers to disseminate their data and information. People are able to access information online. The supply of information from statistical agencies has increased. Today the advanced agencies provide the information on their websites in an understandable way, often categorized for different groups of users. Several glossaries have been set up by different organizations or statistical offices to provide more information and definitions in the field of statistics and consequently official statistics.

Quality criteria to be respected

The quality criteria of a national statistical office are the following: relevance, impartiality, dissemination, independence, transparency, confidentiality, international standards . There principles apply not only to the NSO but to all producers of official statistics. Therefore, not every figure reported by a public body should be considered as official statistics, but those produced and disseminated according to the principles. Adherence to these principles will enhance the credibility of the NSO and other official statistical producers and build public trust in the reliability of the information and results that are produced.


Relevance is the first and most important principles to be respected for national statistical offices. When releasing information, data and official statistics should be relevant in order to fulfil the needs of users as well as both public and private sector decision makers. Production of official statistics is relevant if it corresponds to different user needs like public, governments, businesses, research community, educational institutions, NGOs and international organizations or if it satisfies basic information in each area and citizen's right to information.


Once the survey has been made, the NSO checks the quality of the results and then they have to be disseminated no matter what impact they can have on some users, whether good or bad. All should accept the results released by the NSO as authoritative. Users need to perceive the results as unbiased representation of relevant aspects of the society. Moreover, the impartiality principle implies the fact that NSOs have to use understandable terminology for statistics' dissemination,
questionnaires A questionnaire is a research instrument that consists of a set of questions (or other types of prompts) for the purpose of gathering information from respondents through survey or statistical study. A research questionnaire is typically a mix o ...
and material published so that everyone can have access to their information.


In order to maximize dissemination, statistics should be presented in a way that facilitates proper interpretation and meaningful comparisons. To reach the general public and non-expert users when disseminating, NSOs have to add explanatory comments to explain the significance of the results released and make analytical comments when necessary. There is a need to identify clearly what the preliminary, final and revised results are, in order to avoid confusion for users. All results of official statistics have to be publicly accessible. There are no results that should be characterized as official and for the exclusive use of the government. Moreover, they should be disseminated simultaneously.


Users can be consulted by NSOs but the decisions should be made by statistical bodies. Information and activities of producers of official statistics should be independent of political control. Moreover, NSOs have to be free of any political interference that could influence their work and thus, the results. They should not make any political advice or policy-perspective comments on the results released at any time, even at
press conferences A press conference or news conference is a media event in which notable individuals or organizations invite journalists to hear them speak and ask questions. Press conferences are often held by politicians, corporations, non-governmental organ ...
or in interviews with the media.


The need fo
is essential for NSOs to gain the trust of the public. They have to expose to the public the methods they use to produce official statistics, and be accountable for all the decisions they take and the results they publish. Also, statistical producers should warn users of certain interpretations and false conclusions even if they try to be as precise as possible. Furthermore, the quality of the accurate and timely results must be assessed prior to release. But if errors in the results occur before or after th
data revision
See Data Review/Data Checking in Glossary of Terms on Statistical Data Editing – UNECE http://www.unece.org/stats/publications/editingglossary.pdf they should be directly corrected and information should be disseminated to the users at the earliest possible time. Producers of official statistics have to set analytical systems in order to change or improve their activities and methods.


All data collected by the national statistical office must protect the privacy of individual respondents, whether persons or businesses. But on the contrary, government units such as institutions cannot invoke statistical confidentiality. All respondents have to be informed about the purpose and legal basis of the survey and especially about the confidentiality measures. The statistical office should not release any information that could identify an individual or group without prior consent. After data collection, replies should go back directly to the statistical producer, without involving any intermediary. Data processing implies that filled-in paper and electronic form with full names should be destroyed.

International standards

The use of international standards at the national level aims to improve international comparability for national users and facilitate decision-making, especially when controversial. Moreover, the overall structure, including concepts and definitions, should follow internationally accepted standards, guidelines or good practices. International recommendations and standards for statistical methods approved by many countries provide them with a common basis like the two standards of the
International Monetary Fund The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a major financial agency of the United Nations, and an international financial institution, headquartered in Washington, D.C., consisting of 190 countries. Its stated mission is "working to foster globa ...
, SDDS for Special Data Dissemination Standards and GDDS for General Data Dissemination System. Their aim is to guide countries in the dissemination of their economic and financial data to the public. Once approved, these standards have to be observed by all producers of official statistics and not only by the NSO.

See also

* ''
Journal of Official Statistics The ''Journal of Official Statistics'' is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes papers related to official statistics. It is published by Statistics Sweden, the national statistical office of Sweden. The journal was established in 198 ...
'' *
List of national and international statistical services The following is a list of national and international statistical services. Central national statistical services Nearly every country in the world has set a central public sector unit entirely devoted to the production, harmonisation and dissemin ...


Further reading

* Giovanini, Enric
''Understanding Economic Statistics''
OECD Publishing, 2008,

External sources

International Association for Official Statistics

European Commission Eurostat
{{Authority control Survey methodology Political communication Mathematical and quantitative methods (economics)