United Nations System of National Accounts
The United Nations System of National Accounts (often abbreviated as "SNA" or "UNSNA") is an international standard system of national accounts
National accounts
National accounts or national account systems are the implementation of complete and consistent accounting techniques for measuring the economic activity of a nation. These include detailed underlying measures that rely on double-entry accounting...

, the first international standard being published in 1953. Handbooks have been released for the 1968 revision, the 1993 revision, and the 2008 revision.

The aim of UNSNA is to provide an integrated, complete system accounts enabling international comparisons of all significant economic activity. The suggestion is that individual countries use UNSNA as a guide in constructing their own national accounting systems, to promote international comparability. However, adherence to an international standard is not, and cannot, be rigidly enforced, and the systems used by some countries (for example, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, and introduced to China by Fengbo Zhang) differ significantly from the standard. In itself this is not a major problem, provided that each system provides sufficient data which can be reworked to compile national accounts according to the United Nations standard.

Publication of data

Economic and financial data from member countries are used to compile annual (and sometimes quarterly) data on gross product, investment, capital transactions, government expenditure and foreign trade. The results are published in a UN Yearbook, National Accounts Statistics: Main Aggregates and Detailed Tables, which currently (and until the 2008 revision comes into force) follows the 1993 recommendations. The values provided are in the national currency.

Additionally, national statistical offices may also publish SNA-type data series. More detailed data at a lower level of aggregation is often available on request. Because national accounts data is notoriously prone to revision (because it involves a very large number of different data sources, entries and estimation procedures impacting on the totals), there are often discrepancies between the totals cited for the same accounting period in different publications issued in different years. The "first final figures" may in fact be retrospectively revised several times because of new sources, methods or conceptual changes. The yearly revisions may be quantitatively slight, but cumulatively across e.g. ten years they may alter a trend significantly. This is something the researcher should bear in mind in seeking to obtain a consistent data set.

The quality and comprehensiveness of national accounts data differs between countries. Among the reasons are that:
  • some governments invest far more money in statistical research than other governments.
  • economic activity in some countries is much more difficult to measure accurately than in others (for example, a large grey economy, widespread illiteracy, a lack of cash economy, survey access difficulties, very large mobility of people and assets - this is particularly the case in sub-Saharan countries).
  • some statistical agencies have more scientific autonomy and budgetary discretion than others.
  • some countries have a strong intellectual tradition in the area of social statistics, others do not.

Main accounts in the system

UNSNA includes the following main accounts:
  • the production account (components of gross output)
  • the primary distribution of income account (incomes generated by production)
  • the transfers (redistribution) account (including social spending)
  • the household expenditure account
  • the capital account
  • the (domestic) financial transactions account
  • the changes in asset values account
  • the assets and liabilities account (balance sheet)
  • the external transactions account

These accounts include various annexes and sub-accounts, and standards are also provided for input-output tables showing the transactions between economic sectors. Almost all member countries of the United Nations provide income and product accounts, but not necessarily a full set of standard accounts, or a full set of data, for the standard accounting information supplied.


UNSNA continues to be developed further, and international conferences are regularly held to discuss various conceptual and measurement issues.

Some examples are the construction of accounts for environmental resources, the measurement of the trade in services and of capital stocks, the treatment of insurance payments, the grey economy, employee compensation in the form of stock options or other non-wage income etc.

Discussions and updates are reported in SNA News & Notes http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/sna/sna1-en.htm#txt3.
UNSNA Revisions are documented at the UN Statistics Division site http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/aeg.asp#aeg5

The 2008 UNSNA Revision

For the 2008 UNSNA Revision, full-text is available online: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/nationalaccount/SNA2008.pdf. The OECD provides some overview commentary http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/60/8/41545834.pdf.

The revision of the 1993 system was coordinated by the Intersecretariat Working Group on National Accounts (ISWGNA) comprising the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund is an organization of 187 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world...

 (IMF), World Bank
World Bank
The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans to developing countries for capital programmes.The World Bank's official goal is the reduction of poverty...

 (WB), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat) and the United Nations regional commissions.

Criticism of UNSNA

UNSNA has been criticised as biased by feminist sociologists such as Marilyn Waring
Marilyn Waring
Marilyn Waring, CNZM, D.Phil., D.Litt. is a New Zealand feminist, a politician, an activist for female human rights and environmental issues, an author and an academic, known for her contributions to feminist economics....

 and Maria Mies
Maria Mies
Maria Mies is a professor of sociology and author of several influential feminist books, including Indian Women and Patriarchy , Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale , and Women: The Last Colony .She is Professor of Sociology at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences, which is a...

 because no imputation for the monetary value of unpaid housework or for unpaid voluntary labor is made in the accounts; even although the accounts do include the "imputed rental value of owner-occupied dwellings" (the market-rents which owner-occupier
An owner-occupier is a person who lives in and owns the same home. It is a type of housing tenure. The home of the owner-occupier may be, for example, a house, apartment, condominium, or a housing cooperative...

s would receive if they rented out the housing they occupy). This obscures the reality that market-production depends to a large extent on non-market labour being performed.

However, such criticism raises several questions:
  • whether an international standard method of imputation for the value of such services is feasible;
  • whether the imputation would result in meaningful, internationally comparable measures;
  • whether attaching a price to voluntary labor, done primarily by women, itself actually performs an emancipatory function.

In countries such as the USA, Britain, and Japan, statisticians have in recent years estimated the value of housework using data from time use survey
Time use survey
A Time Use Survey is a statistical survey which aims to report data on how, on average, people spend their time.- Objectives :The objective is to identify, classify and quantify the main types of activity that people engage in during a definitive time period, e.g...

s. The valuation principle often applied is that of how much a service would cost, if it was purchased at market rates, instead of being voluntarily supplied.

Marxian economists have criticized UNSNA concepts also from a different theoretical perspective on the new value added or value product
Value product
The value product is an economic concept formulated by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy during the 1860s, and used in Marxian social accounting theory for capitalist economies...

. On this view, the distinctions drawn in UNSNA to define income from production and property income are rather capricious or eclectic, obscuring thereby the different components and sources of realised surplus value
Surplus value
Surplus value is a concept used famously by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. Although Marx did not himself invent the term, he developed the concept...

; the categories are said to be based on an inconsistent view of newly created value, conserved value, and transferred value (see also double counting
Double counting (accounting)
Double counting in accounting is an error whereby a transaction is counted more than once, for whatever reason. But in social accounting it also refers to a conceptual problem in social accounting practice, when the attempt is made to estimate the new value added by Gross Output, or the value of...

). The result is that the true profit volume is underestimated in the accounts, and workers' earnings are overestimated.

Additionally, it is argued the UNSNA aggregate "compensation of employees" does not distinguish adequately between pre-tax and post-tax wage income, the income of higher corporate officers, and deferred income (employee and employer contributions to social insurance schemes of various kinds) on the other. "Compensation of employees
Compensation of employees
Compensation of employees is a statistical term used in national accounts, balance of payments statistics and sometimes in corporate accounts as well...

" may also include the value of stock-options received as income by corporate officers. Thus, it is argued, the accounts have to be substantially re-aggregated, to obtain a true picture of income generated and distributed in the economy.

Statisticians have also criticized the validity of international statistical comparisons using national accounts data, on the ground that estimates are not compiled in a uniform way. For example, Jochen Hartwig provides evidence to show that "the divergence in growth rates [of real GDP] between the U.S. and the EU since 1997 can be explained almost entirely in terms of changes to deflation methods that have been introduced in the U.S. after 1997, but not - or only to a very limited extent - in Europe".

See also

  • Balance of payments
    Balance of payments
    Balance of payments accounts are an accounting record of all monetary transactions between a country and the rest of the world.These transactions include payments for the country's exports and imports of goods, services, financial capital, and financial transfers...

  • capital account
    Capital account
    The current and capital accounts make up a country's balance of payment . Together these three accounts tell a story about the state of an economy, its economic outlook and its strategies for achieving its desired goals...

  • Capital formation
    Capital formation
    Capital formation is a concept used in macroeconomics, national accounts and financial economics. Occasionally it is also used in corporate accounts. It can be defined in three ways:...

  • Compensation of employees
    Compensation of employees
    Compensation of employees is a statistical term used in national accounts, balance of payments statistics and sometimes in corporate accounts as well...

  • European System of Accounts
    European System of Accounts
    The European System of Accounts is the system of national accounts and regional accounts used by members of the European Union. It was most recently updated in 1995 ....

  • Gross domestic product
    Gross domestic product
    Gross domestic product refers to the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country in a given period. GDP per capita is often considered an indicator of a country's standard of living....

  • gross fixed capital formation
    Gross fixed capital formation
    Gross fixed capital formation is a macroeconomic concept used in official national accounts such as the UNSNA, NIPAs and the European System of Accounts . The concept dates back to the NBER studies of Simon Kuznets of capital formation in the 1930s, and standard measures for it were adopted in the...

  • Gross Output
    Gross Output
    Gross output is an economic concept used in national accounts such as the United Nations System of National Accounts and the US National Income and Product Accounts...

  • Intermediate consumption
    Intermediate consumption
    Intermediate consumption is an economic concept used in national accounts, such as the United Nations System of National Accounts , the US National Income and Product Accounts and the European System of Accounts .Conceptually, the aggregate "intermediate consumption" is equal to the amount of the...

  • macroeconomics
    Macroeconomics is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of the whole economy. This includes a national, regional, or global economy...

  • measures of national income and output
    Measures of national income and output
    A variety of measures of national income and output are used in economics to estimate total economic activity in a country or region, including gross domestic product , gross national product , and net national income . All are specially concerned with counting the total amount of goods and...

  • national income and product accounts
    National Income and Product Accounts
    The National Income and Product Accounts are part of the national accounts of the United States. They are produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the Department of Commerce...

  • Net output
    Net output
    Net output is an accounting concept used in national accounts such as the United Nations System of National Accounts and the NIPAs, and sometimes in corporate or government accounts. The concept was originally invented to measure the total net addition to a country's stock of wealth created by...

  • National agencies responsible for GDP measurement
    National agencies responsible for GDP measurement
    Within each country GDP is normally measured by a national government statistical agency, as private sector organizations normally do not have access to the information required ....

  • productive and unproductive labour
    Productive and unproductive labour
    Productive and unproductive labour were concepts used in classical political economy mainly in the 18th and 19th century, which survive today to some extent in modern management discussions, economic sociology and Marxist or Marxian economic analysis...

  • System of Material Product Balance (MPS)
  • value added
    Value added
    In economics, the difference between the sale price and the production cost of a product is the value added per unit. Summing value added per unit over all units sold is total value added. Total value added is equivalent to Revenue less Outside Purchases...

  • Value product
    Value product
    The value product is an economic concept formulated by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy during the 1860s, and used in Marxian social accounting theory for capitalist economies...

  • China GDP
    Historical GDP of the People's Republic of China
    This article includes a list of China's historical gross domestic product values, the market value of all final goods and services produced by a nation in a given year. The GDP dollar estimates presented here are calculated at market or government official exchange rates and derived from...

    - Dr. Fengbo Zhang introduced the Western economics, GDP and SNA system to China, replaced Soviet Union's MPS system.

External links

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