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The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, commonly known as the OECD, is a grouping of representatives of 34 of the world's richest nations, working in a loose partnership on promoting economic growth and prosperity around the world. Through its many functions and publications, the OECD focuses on global matters of economic importance, including world trade, comparative taxation, and environmental challenges such as pollution and climate change.

Begun in 1961 with 20 members, the OECD in its current 34-member form now accounts for 59 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product, more than half of the world's energy consumption, three-quarters of the world's trade, and 18 percent of the world's population. Headquarters are in Chateau de la Muette, in Paris.

Although it is not a legislative body, the OECD has a similar structure. Each member nation has one representative on the Council, which has attached to it Standing Committees. Each work area of the OECD has a Substantive Committee. Another top body is called the Secretariat. Lower down in the hierarchy are Directorates and Main Committees, each of which has one main economic focus, such as education or employment or technology or trade or public affairs or the environment. Substantitve Committes, Directorates, and Main Committees have subcommittees, making up about 200 groupings in all.

The OECD had its beginnings as another group, the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which originated in 1948 to help administer the Marshall Plan, the United States's vast foreign aid program to help rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Once the Marshall Plan had finished, the OEEC carried on in other areas, providing a forum for international discussions on trade and energy.

The OEEC gave way to the OECD in 1961. Founding members were Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portual, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the U.K., the U.S., and West Germany. Joining in the next decade were Australia, Finland, Japan, and New Zealand.

Membership continued to grow in the 1990s and 2000s, with Chile, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and South Korea rounding out the roll. Other nations that have requested OECD membership include Colombia, Costa Rica, Lativa, Lithuania, and Russia.

A large part of what the OECD does is release hundreds of annual publications: books, reports, and statistics. Most are published in English and French. Among the familiar publications are the Economic Outlook, a twice-yearly analysis and forecast of member nations' aggregate activity, and the Factbook, an annual snapshot of member nations' data that includes more than 100 economic, environmental, and social indicators in the form of words, tables, and graphs. Member nations focus intently on OECD publications, which provide barometers of performance as compared across-the-board with other nations throughout the world.

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