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Cell Phones & Income

November 30, 2015

Mobile phone data can help create maps of wealth and poverty.


Joshua Blumenstock

A cell tower in Rwanda. (Joshua Blumenstock)


Tracking wealth with cell phones. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In developing countries like Rwanda, it can be hard for governments to find pockets of poverty, where people are most in need. Surprisingly, one answer may be cell phones, which are inexpensive and popular in many such countries. This according to University of Washington researcher Joshua Blumenstock and his colleagues, writing in the journal Science.

JOSHUA BLUMENSTOCK (University of Washington, Seattle ):

People who tend to make calls on a regular pattern, 9 am to 5 pm, tend to be wealthier; people that buy airtime in large quantities, like ten dollars at a time, tend to be wealthier than people who buy like fifty cents or a dollar at a time.


Analyzing non-personal phone data let them map wealth distribution almost as accurately as national surveys that cost millions of dollars. He says similar efforts could help many nations locate and fight poverty more effectively. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.