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Estimating Economic Characteristics with Phone Data


Historically, economists have relied heavily on survey-based data collection to measure social and economic well-being. Here, we investigate the extent to which the “digital footprints” of an individual can be used to infer his or her socioeconomic characteristics. Using two different datasets from Afghanistan and Rwanda, we show that phone data can be used to estimate the wealth of individuals in two very different economic environments. However, we find that such models are relatively brittle, and that a model trained in one country cannot be used to estimate characteristics in another. These results suggest several promising applications and directions for future work.

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