Comparing statistics on expenditure

Comparing the size and intensity of health and welfare policies in the Nordic countries relies on assessing the expenditure devoted to social protection and the healthcare sector. To ensure accurate comparisons, both committees adhere to standardized criteria and terminology established by the OECD and Eurostat. Nevertheless, certain significant differences arise during the comparisons, which are elucidated in the following.

Important differences when comparing expenditure

When comparing social spending in the Nordic countries with that of other EU member states, it is important to consider the differences in how social cash benefits are taxed. In the Nordic countries, these benefits are often taxed, while in other EU countries, certain portions of these benefits may be exempt from taxation. Additionally, some countries provide tax relief for families with children, but this is not categorized as social spending.

There are also variations in the definition of social and education sectors between the Nordic countries and other EU countries. For instance, the age at which children start school differs, making it challenging to compare spending on early childhood education and care.

The OECD and EUROSTAT are currently developing models for calculating net social spending after taxes.

It is worth noting that there are significant differences between the OECD calculations of healthcare spending and the calculations in the European system of integrated social protection statistics (ESSPROS) system.

The ESSPROS system provides the terminology used for collecting social protection expenditure data in all Nordic countries. Efforts are made in ESSPROS to obtain the most accurate data on social services expenditure for the elderly and disabled.

However, in the OECD's A System of Health Accounts, these figures are categorized as health expenditure. Additionally, ESSPROS calculates net expenditure, while the OECD includes gross expenditure, which encompasses investments and user charges.

Other considerations

Currently, all Nordic countries rely on national accounts when making calculations related to social expenditure.

It is important to mention that Norway and Iceland began using national accounts as the basis for these calculations in 2002 and 2007, respectively. Consequently, any social expenditure data before 2001 (Norway) and 2006 (Iceland) cannot be accurately compared to data from later years.

Relevant links

The definitions on expenditure in the healthcare sector are available in this publication: OECD A system of Health Accounts 2011, revised edition.

Definitions on the ESPROSS nomenclature used when reporting social expenditure are available in this publication: European system of integrated social protection statistics, 2022 edition.