Eugene DeclercqandKirsi Viisainen
Few would argue with the basic premise of this book—that comparative inquiry enhances our understanding of maternity care practice. Indeed, the comparative method is a cornerstone of social science research; when comparative research is challenged the criticisms focus on inconsistencies in the measurement of the variables being compared, not on the method itself. In this chapter we focus on the difficulties faced by researchers looking for comparative data in maternity care. Given the natural inclination of researchers to compare (e.g., which country has the highest and which the lowest cesarean rate?) and their inherent curiosity to know what is going on in different countries (e.g., what is the home birth rate in the Netherlands?), good comparative data are precious commodities. But can we find maternity care statistics that are truly comparable? The answer is a confident yes...sort of, more or less, in some cases, under the right conditions. Comparisons are possible, but rarely ideal and never simple.
This chapter presents data from two general sources. The first is the database developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): From this collection of information we present data on twenty countries that are OECD members. The second data source is reports generated by individual countries and collected by various authors in this book. The OECD data have the considerable advantage of being collected by a single agency. The OECD provides documentation of the standards used in measurement and takes responsibility for providing consistency of data, although all OECD reports caution users about the limits on cross-national comparisons. Equally important, it is relatively current (most data presented here will be from 1995 or later) and readily available in a format (CDROM) that allows researchers to manipulate the data to better address the questions