Thursday, December 11, 2008

United Nations Statistical Yearbook

At $160 per year, this is not a real big ticket item, yet when I replaced the old edition this year with the new one, it looked like it had never been opened, let alone used. Why don't we use it? Do we not remember it's there? Do we not get asked for this information? Is it readily available on the internet?

It is in both English and French (on the same page) and has a total of 69 tables divided into four parts:

World and region summary includes population, production, trade and finance statistics for the world as a whole and regions of the world such as Europe and Asia, but not specific countries.

Population and social statistics includes statistics on population, education, nutrition and childbearing, and communications for individual countries.

Economic activity, at 465 pages and by far the largest section, includes statistics on wages and prices, labor force, industrial production, manufacturing, energy and the environment, etc. for individual countries.

International economic relations includes tables on international tourism, development assistance, balance of payments, etc.

Appendixes or annexes trace country or area name changes, which countries are included in specific regions and conversion tables.

This can be frustrating to use because of the difficulty in collecting similar statistics for all countries, but, of course, that is no fault of this resource. For example, it is impossible to find out the female population of Chad, because only the total population is counted, and the latest for that is 1993. The difficulty and obstacles encountered in collecting these statistics is illustrated by the four pages of fine print foot notes following the country population table, and it is helpful to know why needed information does not exist.
All things considered, it is good and reliable resource. But, should be continue to get it?


Catherine Harper said...

Well, this was a good excuse for getting up to date on what's now free out there on the web. It's been a while since I've looked for international statistics.

The UN site has a LOT more than it did the last time I visited it. For example, you can now view the UN Demographic Yearbook, for all years from 2000 through 2006 in PDF. But that just gives you demographic data, and, as far as I can tell, they have not put SY online yet in the same way.

I also discovered the UNData database (, in which you can search for statistical reports published by UN agencies on a wide range of topics and geographic areas. This is a great source, and I'm glad to know about it, but I don't see it as an alternative to a statistical handbook like SY.

A source more comparable to SY is the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics Online (, which appears to cover all the categories in SY, and for all countries. The data is presumably more up to date than that in SY. Unfortunately, this database requires a subscription ( which costs some undisclosed amount. I'd say it's worth contacting their customer rep to see how it compares in cost to SY.

The poor man's (or actually poor student's) free alternative to this is Infonation ( This quirky database can be useful for finding comparative demographic, economic and other statistics. You can generate a chart with data on up to six countries relating to any of several dozen categories. It's not a very good substitute for SY though, since the figures are not as recent as those in SY (e.g., GDP per capita figures are for 2001 as opposed to 2005 in SY). Actually, the site says it was last updated in 2004, so one has to wonder if it's been abandoned (perhaps as a way to encourage libraries to subscribe to the Monthly Bulletin).

Besides UN sources, there's Europa Yearbook, a great source of comparative country statistics. Compared to SY, it gives a greater variety of statistics that appear to come from a greater variety of sources. I think the two sources complement each other well. If someone wants to be able to compare several countries at a glance, SY is a better choice. On the other hand, if they want as much data as possible about one or two countries, they should use both sources, understanding that a particular statistic could vary significantly from one SY to Europa, since they aren't necessarily pulling data from the same sources.

The U. of Michigan has put together what I would imagine is a complete list of online sources of international statistics ( I don't see anything else on the list that would be better than SY for our users.

I'd recommend we keep it. Both SY and Europa are excellent sources of information for a student researching a country or for anyone who wants to know just how the U.S. compares with the rest of the world (it's a good thing to be able to help that rare individual!). Why more people aren't asking us for this kind of information I can only guess, but it's not the fault of the sources. Maybe promotion would help.

Jane said...

GS says: I have delayed adding my comments about Statistical Yearbook because I have been unsure just how to go about evaluating it. I don’t get many international statistics questions but I remember when this was the only source around. I decided to look on the United Nations website to see if the information from the book is somewhere on the site. And the results were mixed. I went here,, where you can search a bunch of different categories. You can type the name of the chart from the book, such as consumer price index and pretty much get the data from the book, with a wider range of dates. But some charts were not there such as production, trade and consumption of commercial energy or international maritime transport. Maybe the data is called something else online, I didn’t really explore it that thoroughly. I like Statistical Yearbook and think the printed charts are easier to read than what I found online. I think we should keep it. I also think we should promote it more. A way to do this is on our reference page where we could have selected resources (and a statistics category) and include reference titles as well as websites such as the ones Catherine found. We could do this for any number of categories and promote our print reference sources as well as relevant websites.

JiHae said...

Until all of the information contained in SY becomes easily accessible online, I think it is worth the $160 to keep it in our print collection. It's worth it for the livestock section alone.

I'm glad you reminded us of it's existence. Thanks.

Cynthia said...

Ok, I have to be honest--I did not know this was here and have never used it. For this type of information, I first turn to the CIA Handbook or a variety of other on-line options like for EU countries.

Now that I have looked at this, I can see using it from time to time. It is cheap and since we do have many student participants in the UN program, it is probably worth keeping.

Jane said...

I will assume that the lack of response is due to the holidays and thin staffing--also the long delay between posts. I plan to keep this--definitely the consensus of opinion.