Measuring Migration with Large-Scale Behavioral Data

Understanding the causes and effects of internal migration is critical to the effective design and implementation of policies that promote human development. Here, we describe how large sources of geotagged data generated by mobile phones can provide a novel source of data on internal migration.

Datalab Faculty

Joshua Blumenstock



Project Description

Mobility Inference from Call Data from Joshua Blumenstock on Vimeo.

Understanding the causes and effects of internal migration is critical to the effective design and implementation of policies that promote human development. However, a major impediment to deepening this understanding is the lack of reliable data on the movement of individuals within a country. Government censuses and household surveys, from which most migration statistics are derived, are difficult to coordinate and costly to implement, and typically do not capture the patterns of temporary and circular migration that are prevalent in developing economies. In this paper, we describe how new information and communications technologies (ICTs), and mobile phones in particular, can provide a new source of data on internal migration. As these technologies quickly proliferate throughout the developing world, billions of individuals are now carrying devices from which it is possible to reconstruct detailed trajectories through time and space. Using Rwanda as a case study, we demonstrate how such data can be used in practice. We develop and formalize the concept of inferred mobility, and compute this and other metrics on a large data set containing the phone records of 1.5 million Rwandans over four years. Our empirical results corroborate the findings of a recent government survey that notes relatively low levels of permanent migration in Rwanda. However, our analysis reveals more subtle patterns that were not detected in the government survey. Namely, we observe high levels of temporary and circular migration, and note significant heterogeneity in mobility within the Rwandan population. Our goals in this research are thus twofold. First, we intend to provide a new quantitative perspective on certain patterns of internal migration in Rwanda that are unobservable using standard survey techniques. Second, we seek to contribute to the broader literature by illustrating how new forms of ICT can be used to better understand the behavior of individuals in developing countries