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a. Introduction

The OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms contains a comprehensive set of definitions of the main data items collected by the Organisation. The Glossary also contains definitions of key terminology and concepts and commonly used acronyms.  The definitions in the OECD Glossary are primarily drawn from  existing international statistical guidelines and recommendations that have been prepared over the last two or three decades by international organisations (such as the United Nations, ILO, OECD, Eurostat, IMF) working with national statistical institutes and other agencies responsible for the initial compilation and dissemination of statistical data. A comprehensive list of these guidelines is located on the United Nations Statistical Division (UNSD) website, Methodological Publications in Statistics (http://esa.un.org/unsd/progwork). Another site listing almost all of the current international statistical classifications is provided on a Eurostat site - http://europa.eu.int/comm/eurostat/ramon.

In the main, the definitions are quoted word for word from these sources and a detailed reference is provided to enable the user to refer to the complete source document to obtain further information/context where needed. The source information provided relates to the source from where the definition was extracted for inclusion in the OECD Glossary. This source document may not in fact have been the original source of the definition.

It should be emphasised that national data collected by the OECD are based on national definitions. These may for a number of reasons depart from definitions contained in international statistical guidelines and recommendations. Information on national definitions, concepts, etc, for specific data collected from Member countries are normally presented in relevant OECD publications.

b. Uses of OECD Glossary

The main aims of the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms are to provide a:

  • highly visible and readily accessible source of definitional information for use by OECD author areas in the development of questionnaires and other data collection instruments, and for inclusion in published output. The Glossary is intended  to facilitate the collection of consistent data by the various OECD Directorates and Committees.  The Glossary is also intended to lend greater transparency to OECD data requirements from national agencies that provide information to the Organisation. Obviously, such uses would also be of interest to people working in national agencies;
  • set of target definitions based on existing international statistical standards that in many instances are linked to actual data located on OECD databases. In other words, the Glossary is also an integral part of the OECD Statistical Information System (SIS);
  • catalyst for the development of consistent international statistical standards by international organisations working in co-operation with national agencies. The Glossary highlights areas of existing inconsistencies between existing standards and may help prevent similar occurrences events in the future.
  • access to other organisation who would like to work with a common list of statistical terms. An XML feed is provided to allow users to connect directly with the OECD Glossary database.

c. Structure of the Glossary

The main elements of the current version of the OECD Glossary are:

  • unique title for the definition;
  • text outlining the actual definition;
  • text outlining the context for the definition, i.e. background information about the definition, appropriate use, etc;
  • detailed source information;
  • classification of each definition to a broad statistical theme;
  • internal cross-links to related definitions, etc., contained elsewhere in the Glossary;
  • URL link to the source of the definition where this is currently located on the internet.

The Glossary also includes powerful search and interrogation facilities including a web service to import glossary terms into remote applications.

The title for each definition included in the Glossary is unique. In a relatively small number of instances several definitions may exist for the one term. This occurs, for example, when definitions have been prepared in the context of the System of National Accounts (SNA 93), other definitions developed by United Nation agencies and by other international organisations such as the OECD and Eurostat to meet their particular requirements. For example, Eurostat and European Commission definitions have been prepared for the European context, and though these definitions are in the main consistent with those developed by United Nations agencies they are often more detailed/specific and are frequently imbedded in various European Commission Regulations.

Where more than one definition exists, a unique title has been provided through the inclusion of acronyms to identify the source of each definition in the title (SNA, Eurostat, ISIC, UN, ESA, ILO, etc.). A complete list of the acronyms used in Glossary definition titles is provided in these Explanatory Notes in Section h below.

d. Links to reference sources on the internet

Detailed reference information regarding the source of the definitions contained in the OECD Glossary has been provided with each definition. Furthermore, to facilitate user access to the complete source document to obtain more information about the definition, its context, etc, extensive use has been made of URLs where these documents have been located on the internet.

e. Future work on the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms

The Glossary is still evolving with regards to both definitional content and facilities for its use. Comments and suggestions are welcome (through use of the "Contact Us" facility attached to the Glossary or by email directly to the OECD at “stat.contact [at] oecd.org”). Comment is particularly sought on the definitions currently included in the Glossary, for example:

  • there may be more appropriate definitions that should be incorporated in preference to those already listed;
  • definitions for other topics, concepts should also be included; or
  • reference/source information may not be sufficiently detailed.

f. Links to other relevant glossaries on the internet

A number of other international organisations and many national statistical agencies have compiled glossaries that provide definitions of key concepts and statistical domain specific variables, etc. However, in the main these glossaries have been domain (or issue) specific. As a result there are many instances of different and inconsistent definitions being disseminated in multiple glossaries containing same concepts within the one organisation and country.
To help overcome this problem, a number of international organisations have developed extensive glossary databases containing definitions of key concepts and variables covering a wide range of statistical concepts, etc. Although the largest, the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms is one example of such a glossary database. Other relevant glossaries include those compiled by the following agencies:

Eurostat’s concepts and definitions database (CODED)


International Monetary Fund’s glossary of selected financial terms


International Statistical Institute multilingual glossary of statistical terms (definition/concept titles only)


United Nations Statistical Division’s data dictionary of official definitions


Many of the definitions and concepts in the above glossaries are also available in the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms.
The process of compiling these extensive glossary databases has entailed the confrontation of inconsistent definitions covering the same concept that previously resided in different glossaries with narrower coverage. In effect, the extensive glossary databases developed by the OECD, Eurostat and UNSD facilitate the preparation of sub-glossaries covering more specific statistical domains with consistent definitional content. In the OECD context, the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms can be used to derive a number of sub-glossaries the content of which will often overlap.
For example, the OECD Glossary also includes definitions and concepts included in the Metadata Common Vocabulary (MCV) developed as part of the Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange (SDMX) project. This project is a consortium of seven international organisations (Bank for International Settlements, European Central Bank, Eurostat, IMF, OECD, UNSD and the World Bank) working together to develop more efficient processes for the exchange of data and metadata, both between themselves and from national agencies to international organisations. More detailed information about the SDMX project is available on the project website at www.sdmx.org.
Examples of other specific sub-glossaries that can be derived from the OECD Glossary database are the “SNA Glossary” and the “Data and Metadata Reporting and Presentation Glossary”.

g. How you can access the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms

  • Free of charge on the Internet as a read-only database.
  • As downloadable versions in PDF and WORD.
  • A web service to import glossary terms into applications.

While the update of the content of the Internet database version is an on-going activity, the pdf, WORD and CD-ROM versions are snapshots of the Internet database version as at December 2007.

h. Acronyms used in Glossary definition titles


Bank for International Settlements


The Balance of Payments Manual, Fifth Edition, (BPM5) IMF, Washington D.C. 1993


Central Product Classification (CPC), Version 1.0, United Nations, New York, 1997


Development Assistance Committee


European Central Bank


European Conference of Ministers of Transport


European Standard Accounts, 1995 (ESA), Eurostat, Luxembourg


 Statistical Office of the European Union


International Energy Agency


International Labour Organisation


International Monetary Fund


International Statistical Institute

ISIC Rev.2

International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, Revision 2, United Nations, New York

ISIC Rev. 3

International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, Revision 3, United Nations, New York, 1990

ISIC Rev. 4

International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities, Revision 4 – not yet released, currently under development


International Standards Organisation


Nomenclature generale des activites economiques dans les Communautes Europeennes, Revision 1, Eurostat, Luxembourg, 1996


Definitions derived from national sources such as national statistical institutes, central banks, etc


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


OECD Composite Leading Indicator


Definitions derived from other published sources such as the Oxford University Press, International Statistical Institute, etc.


System of National Accounts, 1993 (SNA 93), European Commission, IMF, OECD, United Nations, World Bank


Recommendations and guidelines embodied in the various international statistical standards disseminated by the United Nations, New York


United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation