Some remarks on the history of official statistics in Norway

In 1814 Norway gained independence from Denmark, and although in a loose union with Sweden until 1905, the country had its own constitution and its own parliament and other public institutions.

A few years later an initiative to produce a comprehensive and consistent statistical account of the population and economic activities began to take form, which resulted in a six volume statistical description of the kingdom of Norway. In the 1830s the Department of finance, trade and customs began issuing publications containing official statistical tables in the areas of:

  • Population
  • Agriculture
  • Trade and shipping
  • Vital statistics

Additionally, reports concerning trade, agriculture, nascent industrial activities and other economic activity from all the different counties of Norway were published every five years, but these were mostly written accounts containing few numbers and tables.

Great expansion of official statistics

With its numerous fjords and long coastline, Norway had a strong maritime tradition, and shipping was a growing and increasingly important part of the Norwegian economy in the first part of the 19th century and this was duly reflected in the earliest official statistical publications. In the 1860s, 70s and 80s government agencies began publishing official fisheries statistics, agriculture statistics and industry statistics - as well as statistics concerning education, health, crime, poverty, eligibility to vote and more - reflecting both the great changes in Norwegian society and the increased role of the government in matters concerning its citizens that took place in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century.

In order to make official statistics more readily accessible for its users it was in 1861 decided that all official statistics was to be published in a series of publications of similar format, called Official Statistics of Norway (NOS). In 1879 the first annual Statistical Yearbook was published.

The establishment of Statistics Norway

Statistics Norway (The Central Bureau of Statistics) was formally established as an independent entity in 1876. Its first director was Anders Nicolai Kiær. Kiær was instrumental in expanding the role of official statistics in Norway, he introduced new methods for registering and processing statistics and he pioneered the use of sampling in statistical surveys. Kiær worked to establish more international standardisation of official statistics, and was involved in the establishment of The International Statistical Institute in London in 1885. He introduced the use of electrical punch card machines, and Norway was among the first countries in the world to use such a machine, in 1894.

From the establishment of Statistics Norway and towards the turn of the century there was a steady drive to centralise the production of official statistics, meaning that the production of statistics, often a by-product of other activities in different government agencies, was moved to Statistics Norway. This changed in the period 1900-1920 when the production was decentralised. From the 1920s and onwards, however, the production of statistics was again centralised and today Statistics Norway produce about 85-90 per cent of official statistics in Norway.

The Statistics Acts of 1907 and 1989

Norway`s first Statistics Act provided the legal basis for compiling information from private citizens and businesses directly for statistical purposes. The law also maintained that this information could not be used for any other purposes than the production of statistics, and was not to be made public in any way that could harm the individual citizen or business.

The Statistics Act of 1989 reiterated many of the provisions of the earlier act and stipulated that Statistics Norway is the central body for preparation and dissemination of official statistics, and is subject to supervisory guidelines and financial frameworks set for its business at any time by the Government and the Storting (National Assembly). Statistics Norway is an independent institution in its field which includes a comprehensive research activity. This means that Statistics Norway:

  • is responsible for the total statistical product within the guidelines and budgets set by superior bodies
  • determines the statistical methods which are to form the basis for preparation of given statistics
  • is responsible for how and when statistics are published

Economic statistics and research

Due to increased interest in economic research after World War 1, Norwegian official statistics grew to include more economic and financial statistics, including indices and and national accounts. After the war, Statistics Norway established its own research department, initially to further economic research, but its areas of research today includes demography and living conditions, energy- and environmental economics, macro and micro economics as well as statistical methods and standards.

Register based statistics and sample surveys

In the 1950s and 60s official statistics began to some degree to be based on administrative registers, making it possible to use the same data for different statistical purposes and reducing the burden of data collection. The production of official statistics in Norway has increasingly relied on official registers and other administrative data over the last decades, and this has become a characteristic of the official statistics in the Nordic countries. Today Statistics Norway uses about 60 such registers.

The use of administrative registers in the production of statistics was aided by the introduction of electronic computers, making it possible to process huge amounts of data.

Another important data source used in the production of official statistics in Norway are sample surveys. The use of sampling, although introduced as early as the 1890s, did not gain a proper foothold in Statistics Norway until after World War 2. A department of interviewers was established in 1966, and this organisation has been used in numerous surveys.

More regional statistics

The use of computers and registers in the production of statistics opened up, to a much greater extent than previously, the option of publishing official statistics on different regional levels such as region, county and municipality. The introduction of The National Registry (The Norwegian population registry) in 1964 made it much easier to publish official population statistics on a regional level. Earlier, most regional population statistics was only collected every ten years in the national censuses.

The first census counting both men and women in Norway was in 1769, the first nominative census in 1801. There has been a census every decade ever since. However, The National Registry has increasingly been used to collect data on the population, and the 2011 census will be the first conducted entirely without sending out forms to the households in Norway.

Dissemination of official statistics via the Internet

In 1995 www.ssb.no was established, and within five year all of the official statistics and publications produced by Statistics Norway were made available and free of charge through the website. Since its early inception in 1997, the KOSTRA database has provided statistics on public services in Norwegian municipalities. KOSTRA was established to simplify the municipalities' reporting to the central government, by only having to report the data once, even when it is needed for different purposes. In 2005 Statistics Norway also began digitalising old statistics publications and making them available on the Internet in PDF-form. The goal is to have all the official statistics of Norway ever published available electronically in time for the bicentennial celebration of the Norwegian constitution in 2014.