International Statistics

Statistics, International


the branch of economic statistics that compares and analyzes the statistical indexes of various countries, different world social systems, and the world as a whole. Rudimentary statistical publications containing descriptions of various countries appeared in Italy in the second half of the 16th century. The first such work, known as Sansovino’s collection, was published in 1562. In the latter half of the 17th century works on the functioning of states included comparative descriptions of certain countries.

Intensive work in international statistics began only in the mid-19th century, when international economic relations attained a high level of development. The First International Statistical Congress, held in Brussels in 1853, was attended by the heads of national statistical institutions and prominent scientists from various countries. L. A. J. Quételet and E. Engel, outstanding statisticians of that time, helped organize the congress. The Eighth International Statistical Congress was held in St. Petersburg in 1872, and the Ninth Congress (the last) met in Budapest in 1875. The leading Russian statisticians P. P. Semenov-Tian-Shanskii and Iu. E. Ianson took part in the congresses.

The congresses contributed to the systematization of statistical data from various countries and to improvements in the comparability of such data. Furthermore, they helped improve the work of national statistical institutions and, more importantly, gave impetus to the development of several other branches of statistics. Specifically, the first scientific principles of organizing industrial censuses were formulated by the congresses, with Russian statisticians playing a major role. The International Statistical Institute, an international scientific statistical organization, was founded in 1885. Between 1919 and 1939 the section on economics and finances of the League of Nations worked on international statistics.

Major changes in international statistics occurred after World War II. The active participation of the USSR and other socialist countries in international statistical organizations and the involvement of developing countries in such organizations have broadened the program of international statistics. The UN has done important work in international statistics through the Statistical Office of the Secretariat and the Statistical Commission of the Economic and Social Council. These agencies are responsible for coordinating the statistical activities of specialized UN institutions, improving statistical work, and giving recommendations to UN members on the collection and dissemination of statistical information. Various international organizations work on special branches of statistics. For example, the bureau of statistics of the International Labor Office of the International Labor Organization (ILO) compiles labor statistics; the Population Commission of the Economic and Social Council deals with population statistics; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) works with agricultural statistics; and the World Health Organization (WHO) assembles health statistics.

The chief tasks of international statistics are to achieve comparability in national data, to work out international statistical standards (classifications, systems of indexes, methodological principles), and to collect, process, and publish statistical data by country and world totals based on international recommendations. International statistical agencies are helping the developing countries improve their national statistics.

As a result of the work of the statistical agencies of several international organizations, a series of modern statistical classifications was prepared between 1950 and 1970. They include a standard international classification of economic sectors and goods in international trade, a standard international classification of occupations, and an international classification of illnesses, injuries, and causes of death. Programs and principles have been worked out for conducting population censuses and industrial surveys. The basic concepts of construction statistics and of other branches of statistics have been developed, as well as a system of indexes for studying living standards. The statistical agencies of many international organizations also publish statistical compen-diums.

Considerable progress has been made in devising a system of basic integrated indexes of the national economic process (a system of national accounts) and coordinating its elements with the national economic balance. The recommendations of the UN Statistical Commission on standards of national accounting have incorporated progressive national experience in working out balances, as may be seen from the attempts to unite national and financial accounts, the proposals to include indexes of national wealth and labor resources in the system of national accounts, and the modifications in the methodology for computing national income. The national economic balance system and the national accounting system are regarded as equal in international statistics. It has also been recognized as economically advisable to coordinate the basic indexes of the national accounting system with the national economic balance system.

Major statistical surveys conducted in different countries at about the same time in conformity with international recommendations have come to be called world censuses (for example, the world population census of 1970). The recommendations and statistical classifications of international organizations are highly important for developing countries and for worldwide comparisons of statistical data.

After its formation, the world socialist community also developed its international statistics. The Standing Commission on Statistics of COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) was established in 1962 to work out recommendations on standardizing statistics in the socialist countries. The similarity of the socioeconomic systems of the socialist countries, the common goals of these countries, and the development of socialist economic integration have resulted in a high degree of uniformity and comparability in national statistics. Using Marxist-Leninist principles, COMECON has worked out its own international standards and methodological principles (different from those of the UN) to meet the requirements of socialist economic planning and accounting.

The Standing Commission on Statistics has adopted a system of indexes describing the level and rate of national economic development, a standard classification of national economic sectors, and basic methodological principles for keeping national economic accounts of industrial output, compiling agricultural statistics, and comparing national economic balances. Some of its methodological recommendations play an important part in the coordination of national economic plans and in the development of economic and scientific-technological cooperation among the socialist countries. The basic international statistical periodicals are the UN Statistical Yearbook and the Statistical Yearbook of the COMECON Countries.

National statistical institutions also work on international statistics. The Central Statistical Board of the USSR, for example, compares the statistical indexes of the USSR with those of other countries. Such a comparison assures an analysis of the peaceful economic competition between the socialist and capitalist countries and permits the comprehensive study of major national economic problems.


Ianson, Iu. Sravnitel’naia statistika Rossii i zapadnoevropeiskikh gosudarstv, vols. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1878–80.
Statisticheskiislovar’. Moscow, 1965. Riabushkin, T. V. Mezhdunarodnaia statistika. Moscow, 1965. (Bibliography.)
Problemy mezhdunarodnoi statistiki. Moscow, 1971.


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