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Statistics & Data for the Social Sciences

Guide to locating data sets commonly used by social scientists and other researchers on a wide range of topics.

Tips for Locating 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.

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.

It can be helpful to think about how and why the data you need might have been gathered. This may help you determine what data exists, and in what formats they are available. 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)

Consider the following questions when determining if data is trustworthy --

Does the data have a use license? 
Is there information describing the data collection and analysis strategies? 
Is there information describing the structure and meaning of the data? (metadata)
Are the data authors/creators identifiable by name and contact information? 
If the data includes sensitive information, are proper protocols included in viewing the data (use agreements)? 
Is the data collection or analysis tied to a financial, political, or social interest? If so, identify the measures taken to ensure ethical compliance. 


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