NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

The Value of Luminosity Data as a Proxy for Economic Statistics

Xi Chen, William D. Nordhaus

NBER Working Paper No. 16317
Issued in August 2010
NBER Program(s):   EEE   IO   PR

One of the pervasive issues in social and environmental research has been to improve the quality of socioeconomic data in developing countries. Because of the shortcoming of standard data sources, the present study examines luminosity (measures of nighttime lights) as a proxy for standard measures of output. The paper compares output and luminosity at the country levels and at the 1° x 1° grid-cell levels for the period 1992-2008. The results are that luminosity has very little value added for countries with high-quality statistical systems. However, it may be useful for countries with the lowest statistical grades, particularly for war-torn countries with no recent population or economic censuses. The results also indicate that luminosity has more value added for economic density estimates than for time-series growth rates.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16317

Published: Xi Chen and William Nordhaus, "Using luminosity data as a proxy for economic statistics," Proceeedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US), May 24, 2011, 108(21): 8589-8594

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