Morten Jerven Morten Jerven


How do they even come up with these numbers? That was the question that I wanted to answer. It was 2007 and I went to Zambia to do the fieldwork for my doctoral thesis in economic history,  examining national income estimates for African countries. My doctoral research involved field research in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia and my work on the post-colonial economic performance of these countries has been published in a range of journal papers. The work is particularly innovative in investigating the construction of African growth data and showing how data quality issues are critical for the evaluation of economic performance.

In the spring 2010 I visited Ghana and Nigeria and in the fall the same year I went to Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. There I followed up on my doctoral research and conducted interviews at the statistical offices. Since 2007 I have been trying to answer that question: How do they come up with these numbers. I have just finished a book that seeks to answer that question. It is forthcoming with Cornell University Press with the title:

Poor Numbers: Facts, Assumptions and Controversy in African Development Statistics.

Currently I am working on linking the work on post-colonial economic development with the economic history of colonial Africa. The research projects is focusing on the African growth data where the two related aims are to assess its quality and to construct a reliable basis to evaluate and interpret long term economic change in African economies. The project is called: ‘Measuring African progress: Validity and reliability of African statistics and the study of African long term development’ and it is supported by a SSHRC 3 year grant.

Privacy Preference Center


Cookies that are necessary for the site to function properly.



These are used to track user interaction and detect potential problems. These help us improve our services by providing analytical data on how users use this site.

_ga, _gat, _gat_, __cfduid