NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space

J. Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard, David N. Weil

NBER Working Paper No. 15199
Issued in July 2009
NBER Program(s):   EFG

GDP growth is often measured poorly for countries and rarely measured at all for cities or subnational regions. We propose a readily available proxy: satellite data on lights at night. We develop a statistical framework that uses lights growth to augment existing income growth measures, under the assumption that measurement error in using observed light as an indicator of income is uncorrelated with measurement error in national income accounts. For countries with good national income accounts data, information on growth of lights is of marginal value in estimating the true growth rate of income, while for countries with the worst national income accounts, the optimal estimate of true income growth is a composite with roughly equal weights. Among poor-data countries, our new estimate of average annual growth differs by as much as 3 percentage points from official data. Lights data also allow for measurement of income growth in sub- and supranational regions. As an application, we examine growth in Sub Saharan African regions over the last 17 years. We find that real incomes in non-coastal areas have grown faster by 1/3 of an annual percentage point than coastal areas; non-malarial areas have grown faster than malarial ones by 1/3 to 2/3 annual percent points; and primate city regions have grown no faster than hinterland areas. Such applications point toward a research program in which “empirical growth” need no longer be synonymous with “national income accounts.”

download in pdf format
   (943 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (943 K) or via email.

This paper was revised on December 5, 2011

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15199

Published: J. Vernon Henderson & Adam Storeygard & David N. Weil, 2012. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 994-1028, April. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
DeLong w7602 Cornucopia: The Pace of Economic Growth in the Twentieth Century
DeLong w7569 The Shape of Twentieth Century Economic History
Sapienza, Zingales, and Guiso w11999 Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?
Spolaore and Wacziarg w18130 How Deep Are the Roots of Economic Development?
Nunn w17869 Culture and the Historical Process
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us