Handbooks with cumulated revisions were published in 1968 and 1993. The aim is to provide an integrated, complete system accounts enabling international comparisons of all significant economic activity. The suggestion is that individual countries use UNSNA as a guide in constructing their own national accounting systems.
Economic and financial data from member countries are used to compile annual (and sometimes quarterly) data on gross product, investment, capital transactions, government expenditure and foreign trade. The results are published in a UN Yearbook, National Accounts Statistics: Main Aggregates and Detailed Tables. The values provided are in the national currency.
Additionally, national statistical offices may also publish SNA-type data series. More detailed data at a lower level of aggregation is often available on request. Because national accounts data is notoriously prone to revision, there are often discrepancies between the totals cited for the same accounting period in different publications issued in different years.
The quality and comprehensiveness of national accounts data differs between countries. Among the reasons are that:
UNSNA includes the following main accounts:
These accounts include various annexes and sub-accounts, and standards are also provided for input-output tables showing the transactions between economic sectors.
UNSNA continues to be developed further, and international conferences are regularly held to discuss various conceptual and measurement issues.
Some examples are the construction of accounts for environmental resources, the measurement of the trade in services and of capital stocks, the treatment of insurance payments, the grey economy, employee compensation in the form of stock options or other non-wage income etc.
UNSNA has been criticised as biased by feminist sociologists such as Marilyn Waring and Maria Mies because no imputation for the monetary value of unpaid housework or for unpaid voluntary labor is made in the accounts; even although the accounts do include the "imputed rental value of owner-occupied dwellings" (the market-rents which owner-occupiers would receive if they rented out the housing they occupy). This obscures the reality that market-production depends to a large extent on non-market labour being performed.
However, such criticism raises several questions:
In countries such as the USA, Britain, and Japan, statisticians have in recent years estimated the value of housework using data from time use surveys. The valuation principle often applied is that of how much a service would cost, if it was purchased at market rates, instead of being voluntarily supplied.
Marxian economists have criticized UNSNA concepts also from a different theoretical perspective on the new value added or value product. On this view, the distinctions drawn in UNSNA to define income from production and property income are rather capricious or eclectic, obscuring thereby the different components and sources of realised surplus value; the categories are said to be based on an inconsistent view of newly created value, conserved value, and transferred value (see also double counting).
Additionally, it is argued the UNSNA aggregate "compensation of employees" does not distinguish adequately between pre-tax and post-tax wage income, the income of higher corporate officers, and deferred income (employee and employer contributions to social insurance schemes of various kinds) on the other. "Compensation of employees" may also include the value of stock-options received as income by corporate officers. Thus, it is argued, the accounts have to be substantially re-aggregated, to obtain a true picture of income generated and distributed in the economy.
Statisticians have also criticized the validity of international statistical comparisons using national accounts data, on the ground that estimates are not compiled in a uniform way. For example, Jochen Hartwig provides evidence to show that "the divergence in growth rates [of real GDP] between the U.S. and the EU since 1997 can be explained almost entirely in terms of changes to deflation methods that have been introduced in the U.S. after 1997, but not - or only to a very limited extent - in Europe".