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Sources for Statistics : Starting Points

Working with Data

What topics do you need?

  • Race, gender, age, educational attainment...

What unit of analysis do you need?

  • Individuals, families, households...
  • Companies, schools...
  • Automobiles, commodities...

What geographic unit do you need?

  • National: U.S., country level
  • State, regional, county/parish, local, cities...
  • International

What time period/years do you need?

  • Fixed time: most recent available, past 5 years, historical...
  • Time series: annual, quarterly, every 10 years...

Knowing what you need is an important first step. Don't skip it! You need to have a strong idea of the specific data needed to answer your research question. Come  meet with a librarian.

Who would collect this data?

When searching for data, think carefully about what organizations might have collected the data you need.  Governments and international organizations often maintain and provide access to the data they collect, while businesses and independent researchers' data are less available to the public. For the later, subscriptions to data archives and business databases are sometimes a solution.

Here are some possible data collectors to consider:

Government

  • Generally free, may be on the internet or in print (e.g. books, almanacs)
  • Data format varies widely
  • Collected through research to help aid policy decisions
  • Also collected through administrative processes as a result of work the government does
  • Examples:
    • U.S. Federal level: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Center for Disease Control
    • U.S. State & Local level: Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, New Orleans Department of Information Technology & Innovation
    • Non-U.S. government: Indonesia Central Statistical Agency, Mozambique Instituto Nacional de Estatística, Statistics Canada
      Use data.un.org to locate these national statistical agencies.

International Organizations

  • May be free or subscription/fee based
  • Data format varies widely
  • Collected through research to help aid policy decisions
  • Examples:
    • International Government Organizations (IGOs): United Nations, World Health Organization, OECD, World Bank
    • International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs): Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières

Data Archives

  • Often includes data collected by individual scholar/researchers
  • Maybe be fee/subsription based
  • Examples: ICPSR, Roper


Business & Trade

  • Usually proprietary, requiring subscription if available outside a company
  • Examples: Market research, industry-wide statistics, individual company financial data

Don't ignore the scholarly literature (books & articles). Bibliographies and existing research may help you identify what types of data are available, and where to access them.

1940 Census

American FactFinder

Starting Points