ST 14/12: IFLA report on Norwegian statistics


It is surprisingly difficult to collect and present comparative international statistics in a way that is useful and meaningful for the user.

IFLA reports some basic statistical data about Norway in the IFLA World Report 2010. The report also contains detailed information about copyright, press freedom, internet censorship and other important FAIFE issues. Here I comment on the population and the Internet data provided.


Norway is one of 21 countries represented in all four IFLA/FAIFE World Reports since the first report in 2001. 


Population: 4,660,539 (July 2009 est.)*

  • Languages: Bokmal Norwegian (official), Nynorsk Norwegian (official), small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities; note – Sami is official in six municipalities*
  • Literacy: 100%*
  • Internet users: 4,235,800**
  • Internet penetration: 90.90% **
  • Internet growth: 92.50%**

* CIA World Factbook, 2009 Edition (
** Internet World Stats, as of 31 December 2009 (


The number given by CIA Factbook is flat out wrong. Statistics Norway  (which is very accurate) tells us that the Norwegian poulation was

  • 4 799 252  on January 1st 2009
  • 4 858 199 on January 1st 2010

This gives a mid-year population of about 4,829 thousand. CIA was off by 3,5%.

  • There are – it has been said – three types of intelligence: human intelligence, animal intelligence and military intelligence. In that order …

The error has not been corrected since then. The Statistics Norway value as of July 1st 2012 is 5,017,500 persons. The CIA July 2012 estimate is 4,707,270. More than three hundred thousand person, or six percent of the Norwegian population, has disappeared.

No wonder they have trouble in Afghanistan ….

The Norwegian Wikipedia has the correct number. WolframAlpha gives 4,81 million for July 2009 – which is correct for the spring. It gives 4,93 million for July 2012, based on a population projection from 2010 (!).  This is better than CIA, but could obviously be improved by better links with Statistics Norway


When we present statistics for a general public, we should not include too many significant digits.  A population figure of 4,660,539 for July 2009 is both unnecessary detailed (hard to grasp) and empirically meaningless. In Norway, the population increased by about 1500 persons per month in 2009, or by about 50 persons per day.

Writing 4,661,000 – or 4.661 thousand – or even 4.66 million – is better.


The number of Internet users seems far too high. It is difficult to judge the quality of the data without knowing the sources and the methodology used by Internet World Stats. But their current information about Norway does not look very convincing:

  • 4,691,849 population (2011) – while the official value was 4,920 thousand (Jan 1)
  • Country Area: 323,759 sq km – usually given as 385 thousand sq km (with Svalbard)
  • Capital city: Oslo – population 830,380 (2007) – while the official value was 549 thousand. The larger amount must refer to the conurbation
  • 4,560,572 Internet users as of Dec. 31, 2011.
  • 97.2% penetration, per ITU [International Telecommunications Union]


The value for Internet penetration is probably based on national surveys. These usually have sampling errors of  at least one percent. A number with  seven significant digits (4,560,572) is therefore meaningless. You can at most use three digits: 4.56 million.

Main figure

The figure itself is clearly wrong. A 2011 survey from Statistics Norway showed that 91-92% of all persons aged 16-79 used a PC during the last three months. At least eight percent in this age interval did not use a PC. This adds up to appr.  320 thousand people.

Then we have those who are older than 79. In 2007, 75 percent of the women and 35 percent of the men aged 75-79 had not used a PC during the last three months. I will assume that these percentages apply to everybody aged eighty and above in 2009.

About 4.5% of the population (217 thousand persons) is eighty or older. More than half – let us say at least 110 thousand – do not use PCs.

Children aged 0-4 are not very likely to be Internet users, either. That is another three hundred thousand persons (6.2% * 4828). I am pretty sure two thirds of the toddlers (probably more) manage without the web.  That is another 200 thousand.

If we add the numbers together, at least 630 thousand Norwegians (and probably more) can not be called Internet users. The number for 2009 must be well below 4.19 million (4,920-630 thousand) – and not as high as 4.56 million.

Here I take it for granted that people who have not touched a PC for the last three months should not be called internet users.


Official statistics must be judged by the same standards as quantitive research, on the one hand, and historical (source based) research, on the other.   International statistics, which are gathered from different countries with different statistical concepts and practices, are especially prone to errors and mistakes.

Secondary sources can seldom be trusted. It is very convenient to gather Norwegian population data from the US rather than from Statistics Norway. But the chain of transmission is often weak – and the weakness is not visible. Numbers look authoritative even when they are wrong.



2 Responses to “ST 14/12: IFLA report on Norwegian statistics”

  1. P 51/12: Blogging i august « Plinius Says:

    […] ST 14/12: IFLA report on Norwegian statistics. Surprising “facts” from CIA … […]

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