Statistics, or numerical data that has been collected, organized and interpreted in some way, exist on a wide variety of subjects, including health, weather, crime, population characteristics, labor and employment, to name only a few. This pathfinder will help you find statistical information that is available in print publications and on the Web, with a focus on locating statistical information produced by the United States Government.
The United States government is the largest producer and publisher of statistical information. Federal Government agencies produce statistics in the course of research, program management, making forecasts and projections, and as a daily part of their administrative functions. Government produced statistics are used by government agencies and the public at large.
A word of caution about using statistics: In order to understand the meaning of the statistics you have found, and use them appropriately, you should check several things: from where the numbers came (the "source"); how the numbers were collected (sometimes given in a footnote); what date range the statistics cover (usually different than the date the statistics were published); and who collected the data (how reliable is the agency or group who collected and analyzed the numbers in order to come up with the statistics).
Getting Started: Print sources
In the library, check in the reference section for frequently used statistical publications. After the designation "R" for reference, in a college library try looking by call numbers beginning with the letter "H"; in a public library, check in the call numbers beginning in the 300's.
You can also search for statistical publications using the Subject Heading Statistics Periodicals or you can add the name of a country at the beginning of the Subject Heading, for example, United States Statistics Periodicals. You can also try Subject Headings that describe the type of statistics you want to find, such as Educational Statistics or Criminal Statistics.
It is easier to locate statistical information if you know what agency produced the statistics in which you are interested. For example, if you want statistics about traffic patterns you can go to publications issued by the United States Department of Transportation; similarly, if you want to find statistics about household ownership in the United States you can look at publications issued by the Bureau of the Census. However, if you are not sure under what government or other type of agency the information is produced, here are some sources to get you started on your quest to find statistics:
- Statistical Abstract of the United States: Affectionately referred to as the "granddaddy" of statistical sources, this yearly publication from the United States Bureau of the Census contains both government and non-government statistics about social and economic conditions, usually on the national and state levels, but also including some international statistics. Statistics about population characteristics, health, economics, and foreign trade are some examples of what you will find in this source. For each table included, the source of the statistical information is given, making it easy for you to go to the publication that first reported the statistics. This source is found in almost all libraries; check in the reference section. The Statistical Abstract of the United States http://www.census.gov/statab/www/ is also available on the Web, viewed in Adobe Acrobat format.
- American Statistics Index (ASI): Although this source is published by a commercial publisher, Congressional Information Service, it is very useful to identify statistical data published by all branches and agencies of the Federal government, dating back to the 1960s. You can search by subject, name of publication, or category. An abstract is provided for each publication, giving the title, agency that produced it, and information on how to obtain the publication. If you are interested in statistical information about foreign countries published by agencies such as the United Nations or UNESCO, look in the Index to International Statistics (IIS), produced by this same publisher. Check the reference area of your library.
Other useful print sources that statistical information are:
- State Metropolitan Area Databook: This source is useful to find statistics on education, crime, elections and transportation, for states and metropolitan areas. The information comes from the United States population census.
- Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to the Present: This source is useful if you are looking for statistics prior to 1970. It is the historical supplement to the Statistical Abstract of the United States.
- Statistical Yearbook (UN) This source, published by the United Nations, contains tables of statistics covering the areas of economics, demographics, education, and health, for countries all over the world. International economic information is updated quarterly through the UN Monthly Bulletin of Statistics. The UN also publishes the UNESCO Statistical Yearbook which focuses on education, science and culture in the international arena.
Where to look on the Web for statistical information:
Today, United States Federal Government agencies are making available more and more information on the Web, so there is a lot of statistical information out there! It is very helpful to begin your search for statistics by visiting a site that contains links to government agency Web sites where you can find statistical information.
- FEDSTATS http://www.fedstats.gov/ The purpose of this site is to provide easy access to the public to statistical information produced by over 70 federal government agencies. Some of the agencies included are the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of the Census, National Center for Education Statistics and Internal Revenue Service. You can query by keyword, browse a topical alphabetical index, and limit your search to a particular agency. There is also a page on regional statistics which divides up links according to category, such as agriculture, crime, education, health.
- University of Michigan Documents Center - Statistical Resources on the Web http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/stats.html When you visit this site you can choose the category, such as agriculture, finance, health, housing, in which you want to find statistical information. Each link is annotated so you will know what information you can find at the site, and where to look within the site once you link there.
- You can also go to the Yahoo! category on Government Statistics http://www.yahoo.com/Government/Statistics/ which lists many of the government agency Web sites where you can find statistical information.
Some places to look for commonly asked for statistics:
Other Web sites containing useful statistical information:
This pathfinder created by Tammy Sugarman.
- County and City Data Books http://fisher.lib.Virginia.EDU/ccdb/ The University of Virginia Library Social Sciences Data Center provides Web access to the electronic versions of the 1988 and 1994 County and City Data Books published by the United States Bureau of the Census. Similar to the State and Metropolitan Data Book (see print sources above), this source provides population, education, crime and other data for cities and counties throughout the United States. A nice feature of this site is that you can create custom tables or data subsets by selecting up to 75 variables of your choosing, which you can view in HTML or deliver to your desktop via FTP.
- Social Statistics Briefing Room (SSBR) http://clinton3.nara.gov/fsbr/ssbr.html Look here for access to current Federal social statistics via links to different Federal agencies. Sponsored by the White House, you can find statistics on health, crime, education and population.
- National Center for Health Statistics http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/ Check here to find statistics such as average life expectancy and number of births and deaths, generated by the Centers for Disease Control, Mortality Data from the National Vital Statistics System http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/dvs/mortdata.htm
- International Data Base (IDB) http://www.census.gov/ftp/pub/ipc/www/idbnew.html Choose "IDB online access" to begin a search of this database containing demographic and socio-economic statistics for all countries of the world.
- The World Factbook https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ This site contains data about countries around the world, including government, geography, transportation and economic statistics, collected by the CIA. You can search the site and download text.
- Historical Weather Database http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/weather/historical/historical.htm You can search over 2,000 cities worldwide to find monthly historical weather data including average low temperature, highest recorded temperature, percent of days with sunshine. Data comes from the National Weather Service, San Francisco.