Estimating Poverty Using Cell Phone Data

Produced by: 
The World Bank
Available from: 
February 2017
Paper author(s): 
Marco Hernandez
Lingzi Hong
Vanessa Frias-Martinez
Andrew Whitby
Enrique Frias-Martinez
Poverty - Inequality - Aid Effectiveness

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.


Research section: 
Latest Research
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