Estimating Poverty Using Cell Phone Data: Evidence from Guatemala
25 Pages Posted: 27 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 14, 2017
The dramatic expansion of mobile phone use in developing countries has given rise to a rich and largely untapped source of information about the characteristics of communities and regions. Call Detail Records (CDRs) obtained from cellular phones provide highly granular real-time data that can be used to assess socio-economic behavior including consumption, mobility, and social patterns. This paper examines the results of a CDR analysis focused on five administrative departments in the south west region of Guatemala, which used mobile phone data to predict observed poverty rates. Its findings indicate that CDR-based research methods have the potential to replicate the poverty estimates obtained from traditional forms of data collection, like household surveys or censuses, at a fraction of the cost. In particular, CDRs were more helpful in predicting urban and total poverty in Guatemala more accurately than rural poverty. Moreover, although the poverty estimates produced by CDR analysis do not perfectly match those generated by surveys and censuses, the results show that more comprehensive data could greatly enhance their predictive power. CDR analysis has especially promising applications in Guatemala and other developing countries, which suffer from high rates of poverty and inequality, and where limited fiscal and budgetary resources complicate the task of data collection and underscore the importance of precisely targeting public expenditures to achieve their maximum antipoverty impact.
Keywords: Economic Growth, Inequality, Economic Theory & Research, Non Governmental Organizations, Industrial Economics, Economics and Institutions, Public Sector Management and Reform
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