in Psychology/PSY6031 Workshops in Economic Psychology
Basic Research Skills: Bibliographic aids
Accessing other people's data
This page has been assembled in a hurry, because it's not a topic
I usually have to teach. Watch out for errors and omissions
Advantages and Disadvantages
of Secondary data analysis | National and international
data | Sources of summary data | Surveys
with some access to raw data | Data archives |
There are two reasons for wanting to access data that have been collected
by other researchers.
Because similar information is needed for both these purposes, we will
deal with them together. This is a very quick introduction, designed
to let you know the kinds of things that might be available - it is certainly
not exhaustive. Please let us know of links that you think ought
to be added.
Governments and other agencies collect large amounts of statistical information,
either as part of government statistical work, or in the course of other
government actions. Often this information will provide valuable
background to your research - for example, it will enable you to judge
whether a small sample you have gathered is typical of the national population.
If your sample seems to be atypical, you should be able to assess the ways
in which it is unrepresentative, and whether they matter. Some
sources of government data are too vast ever to be analysed in full, so
each researcher needs to be able to get at the raw (or relatively raw)
data in order to ask the specific questions he or she has in mind.
Other examples of huge data sets are digital geographical data collected
by mapping companies
By using modern bibliographic aids, you can quickly get at the published
accounts of other researchers' work. However, what you are then looking
at is the particular analyses they have done, and the particular interpretations
they have put on them. If you could get at the original data, and
carry out new analyses, you might be able to test hypotheses they had not
thought of, or examine the strengths of their arguments. Such analyses
are what are properly called Secondary Data Analyses.
Advantages of Secondary Data Analysis
Cost: no need to repeat field work
Time saving (but it can take a long time to get the data into the form
needed for analysis)
Quality: Government survey organizations have considerable expertise and
relatively massive resources, including the power to compel participation
(e.g. in census-taking), so samples are more likely to be of large size
and truly representative
Nature of data: It is easier for an organization like a government to carry
out panel studies, longitudinal studies, cross-national comparisons and
other kinds of research that are extensive in space or time.
Sample sizes are often very large - so small subject groups may still be
quite well represented (e.g. old people who are still working).
Disadvantages of Secondary Data Analysis
One way of overcoming these problems is to construct indices, in which
you bring together responses to a number of items on the original survey
to give you a measure of the quantity you are really interested in.
Such an index should of course be tested for reliability and validity just
like a scale you are developing through primary analysis.
Quality. Some archive data may be of poor quality. For example,
the ESRC data archive contains over 4,500 data sets
- some of these will be better than others. Many panel studies (e.g.
the VSB study) suffer from participant attrition and
Relevance. The data will not have been gathered with your own research
question in mind, so it may be hard to bring them to bear correctly on
Sampling. You cannot control the sampling design and procedure -
so you need to investigate this very thoroughly and think about its implications
Bias to quantitative studies. Until recently, it was only the data
from quantitative studies that were routinely archived, though there is
now a growing archive of qualitative data in the
National and international data
Many of the following notes about government data sources are specific
to the UK. Similar sources will be available for many other countries;
obviously the longer the country has been independent and had a stable
national government, and the less its history has been disrupted by invasion,
occupation, colonisation, and revolution, the better the data are likely
to be. Supranational organizations are good sources for cross-national
data; the UN and its daughter organizations, particularly UNESCO
and the ILO (International Labor Organization), produce many tables of
statistics, and the EU is becoming increasingly important as a source of
European data. Such cross-national tabulations frequently involve
a good deal of forcing to get the data for different countries onto a common
footing. Academic sources are more likely to run across national
boundaries, even when located in a single country - for example, the ESRC
Data Archive gives access to data from many North American studies
as well as research done in the UK.
Sources of summary data
The data sources listed here do not, in general, give you access to raw
data that you can analyse for yourself, though in some cases you may be
able to specify what kind of analysis you would like.
CIA World Fact Book is a well-known web resource, which gives basic
data about almost every country in the world. Its web address is
European Union information can be found at the Europa site; the English
language version is at http://europa.eu.int/index-en.htm. Directorate-General
X of the European Commission carries out a number of regular surveys: for
about these try http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg10/infcom/epo/org.html.
A well known one is the Eurobarometer; there is an index
to recent reports on the web at http://europa.eu.int/en/comm/dg10/infcom/epo/eb.html.
The EU's comparative statistics on the labour market in Europe, available
in book form and (probably) also electronically, are also useful.
A simple summary of facts and figures about the UK can be located at
UK in figures web page, whose address is http://www.statistics.gov.uk/stats/ukinfigs/ukinfig.htm.
More detailed information comes from the Office of National Statistics'
service at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/mainmenu.asp
Most local councils in the UK have web pages that will include some statistics
about their areas. Tagish Ltd have collected a list
of local government web pages at http://www.tagish.co.uk/tagish/links/localgov.htm;
the Devon County Council web pages
are at http://www.devon-cc.gov.uk
Surveys with at least some access to underlying data
UK government statistics are collected by the Office
of National Statistics. There is a comprehensive web site describing
its activites at http://www.ons.gov.uk, and a catalogue
of the statistics it makes available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/data.htm.
For most of the following surveys, results are published in book form,
and these regular publications can be found in most university libraries.
However, accessing the data over the web can be much more convenient.
For a sceptical look at what goes into national statistics (and what comes
out of them), see the book edited by Dorling
and Simpson (1999).
UNESCO provides a variety of database services; there is an introduction
to them at http://www.unesco.org/general/eng/infoserv/db/index.html
Information about the International Labor Organization's database
services is at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/190bibl/index.htm
The World Bank produces the World
Tables of socio-economic data; for information see http://www.ciesin.org/IC/wbank/wtables.html
The European Union's Europa website gives access to a number of databases
of European statistics; for a list
The most important data source any national government provides is the
Census. In the UK, researchers can access summary tables over the
web, and also get access to the detailed data. There is a web page
devoted to dissemination of census information at http://census.ac.uk/cdu/
Access for academic purposes is generally free at time of use; commercial
users have to negotiate paid access. At the time of this revision,
I am not sure what the future arrangements will be, but the census dissemination
web site should give up-to-date information. In the UK as in many
other countries, the main census takes place every 10 years, but a percentage
sample (still very large by academic standards) is taken in mid-cycle.
The ONS makes regular economic data available in electronic format - but
this is a subscription service: for information
The UK General Household Survey (GHS), which has been taken annually since
1971, covers health, housing, education, employment, and many other matters
in more detail than the Census. Data from 1977 on are available online
through the Mimas gateway at the University
of Manchester (http://www.mimas.ac.uk), and need to register as users of
Mimas first. NB Mimas was previously known as Midas.
For information about
the GHS on Mimas, see http://www.mimas.ac.uk/surveys/ghs.
The UK Family Expenditure Survey, taken annually since 1957, has its primary
focus on the income and expenditure of households. Data are collected
partly by interview and partly by diaries. The data are very detailed,
including for example information about children's pocket money, gifts,
books, etc. Raw data available through Mimas; for information
The UK Labour Force Survey, also available through Mimas; for information
The UK National Child Development Study, also available through Mimas;
for information see http://www.mimas.ac.uk/surveys/ncds.
British Social Attitudes (an annual survey), whose results are held in
the ESRC Data Archive.
Social Trends: An annual book publication summarising a variety of UK statistics.
Underlying data are available
to subscribers, see http://www.ons.gov.uk/subdata/strends/index.htm
The Longitudinal Study, which is conducted by ONS, has its own website
panel study, being carried out in the Netherlands, focusses on economic
behaviour and is of particular interest to economic psychologists.
It is organized by CentER at the Katholieke
Universiteit Brabant (Tilburg University),
and it is possible for researchers to go and work at Tilburg for short
periods to make use of the data. It is also possible to access the
data over the Internet, though you have to register as a user - Exeter
researchers should contact Paul
Webley for further advice.
A number of organizations provide archives of data. Nowadays these
tend to combine the functions of an archive with that of a web gateway.
If you go to the organization's main website, you are likely to find links
to other electronic data resources; but you are also likely to discover
a huge catalogue of datasets, which you can access electronically.
Sometimes you will have to register, or pay a fee for each use, or order
the data for supply on CD; sometimes you will be able to get at them immediately
over the web. Some of the most useful archives for UK-based researchers
The Data Archive
maintained by the University of Essex (web address http://dawww.essex.ac.uk).
It is often referred to as the ESRC Data Archive because it was founded
by the ESRC, but nowadays it is a joint effort. All ESRC-funded researchers
are required to deposit their data in the Archive. The BIRON
catalogue helps you find whether there is data relevant to your interests
in the archive.
NIWI, the Nederlands Instituut voor
Wetenschappelijke Informatiediensten (Netherlands Institute for Scientific
the ESRC-supported of qualitative research data, also located at the University
of Essex (web address: http://www.essex.ac.uk/qualidata/)
Bank is an unusual archive: it doesn't include data, but it does give
you the text of the questions asked in a large number of previous surveys,
including many of those listed above. This is very helpful if you are going
to want to compare your results with published data. Its web address is
Dorling, D., & Simpson, S. (1999). Statistics in society.
Paul Webley, Stephen
University of Exeter
School of Psychology
Washington Singer Laboratories
Exeter EX4 4QG
Tel +44 1392 264626
Fax +44 1392 264623
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Document revised 23rd August 1999 by SEGL