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 " page of the "Statistics & Data for the Social Sciences" guide.
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Statistics & Data for the Social Sciences  

"In God we trust, all others bring data." W. Edwards Demming
Last Updated: Nov 18, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Finding Data
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Searching for Data?


To help locate the best data for your research, ask yourself the following:

What kinds of data do I need?

Who would collect this data?

How would this data have been collected?

Keep reading below for tips on how to answer these questions. 

Remember to contact a librarian if you need assistance!


What kinds of data do I need?

Before you search for a data source, think about what kind of data you need. Ask yourself the following:

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...

Not sure the answer to these questions about your research interest? Start by conducting a literature review. Find studies related to your topic and look for the data used by other scholars. What data points did they analyze? Where did they find the data?

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 before you 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:


  • 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 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

  • Usually subscription/fee based
  • Often includes data collected by individual scholar/researchers
  • Data generally available in formats like SPSS, SAS, Stata or Excel
  • Examples: ICPSR, Roper

Businesses & Trade Groups

  • 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.

Most Popular

These are the most popular sources of data and statistics.

  • American FactFinder
    U.S. Census data in the form of maps, tables, and reports from a variety of Census Bureau sources for 2000 and 2010. Also try our other Census tools.
  • Data-Planet Statistical Datasets  
    Standardized and structured statistical data including key economic indicators. Covers subjects including banking and finance, criminal justice, education, industry and commerce, housing and construction, population and income, stocks and commodities, and more. International data includes China Data Center, International Monetary Fund, imports and exports, international finance statistics, World Bank statistics, and Stats Canada.
  • General Social Survey (GSS)  
    The GSS contains a standard 'core' of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal questions, plus topics of special interest.
  • ICPSR (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research)  
    Inter-university Consortium for Social and Political Research offers more than 500,000 digital files containing social science research data.
  • iPoll
    iPoll is a finding aid to locate national US public opinion polls. iPOLL contains half a million survey questions and answers asked in the US over the last 65 years by more than 150 survey organizations.
  • OECD iLibrary  
    Statistics and economic and social data of OECD Nations.
  • Pew Research Center  
    Includes access to data sets for Pew's many ongoing research projects: People & the Press, Journalism, Hispanic Trends, Global Attitudes, Internet & American Life, Social & Demographic Trends, and Religion & Public Life.
  • UN Data
    A data access system to UN databases and national data/statistics agencies.
  • World Development Indicators
    A database of statistics from the World Bank’s Data Group. It provides high quality national and international statistics.

How would this data have been collected?

It can be helpful to think about how the data you need might have been gathered. There are two broad types of data collection:


Administrative or Procedural

  • Data collected during a procedural operation of an organization
  • Examples: Number of people receiving food stamps in Orleans Parish (ERS/USDA); Video poker gaming data by parish (Louisiana Gaming Control Board)

Social Sciences Librarian

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Adam Beauchamp
Research & Instruction Librarian
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What I do in the library:
I teach people how to find and think critically about information, especially in the social sciences. E-mail me a question, or ask for a one-on-one research appointment.

Get One-on-One Help

Have you been unable to locate data on this guide or in the published literature on your topic?  Ask here and Adam will go on the hunt. Be sure to include your e-mail address so Adam can contact you with what he's found.


Thank you to the following librarians, whose excellent guides provided some of the content here:


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