Using luminosity data as a proxy for economic statistics

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 May 24;108(21):8589-94. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017031108. Epub 2011 May 16.


A pervasive issue in social and environmental research has been how to improve the quality of socioeconomic data in developing countries. Given the shortcomings of standard sources, the present study examines luminosity (measures of nighttime lights visible from space) as a proxy for standard measures of output (gross domestic product). We compare output and luminosity at the country level and at the 1° latitude × 1° longitude grid-cell level for the period 1992-2008. We find that luminosity has informational value for countries with low-quality statistical systems, particularly for those countries with no recent population or economic censuses.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Developing Countries / history
  • Developing Countries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Extraterrestrial Environment*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Light*
  • Methods
  • Research Design*
  • Socioeconomic Factors / history*