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Night Lights in Economics: Sources and Uses

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  • John Gibson
  • Susan Olivia
  • Geua Boe-Gibson

Abstract

Night lights, as detected by satellites, are increasingly used by economists, typically as a proxy for economic activity. The growing popularity of these data reflects either the absence, or the presumed inaccuracy, of more conventional economic statistics, like national or regional GDP. Further growth in use of night lights is likely, as they have been included in the AidData geo-query tool for providing sub-national data, and in geographic data that the Demographic and Health Survey links to anonymised survey enumeration areas. Yet this ease of obtaining night lights data may lead to inappropriate use, if users fail to recognize that most of the satellites providing these data were not designed to assist economists, and have features that may threaten validity of analyses based on these data, especially for temporal comparisons, and for small and rural areas. In this paper we review sources of satellite data on night lights, discuss issues with these data, and survey some of their uses in economics.

Suggested Citation

  • John Gibson & Susan Olivia & Geua Boe-Gibson, 2020. "Night Lights in Economics: Sources and Uses," LICOS Discussion Papers 41920, LICOS - Centre for Institutions and Economic Performance, KU Leuven.
  • Handle: RePEc:lic:licosd:41920
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    Cited by:

    1. Pardillo, Marvin, 2021. "Weather Shocks and Economic Activity. Evidence from the Philippines," Warwick-Monash Economics Student Papers 04, Warwick Monash Economics Student Papers.
    2. Arbatli, Cemal Eren & Gomtsyan, David, 2021. "Sectarian aid, sanctions and subnational development," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 139(C).
    3. Ludovic Bequet, 2022. "Agricultural productivity and land inequality. Evidence from the Philippines," DeFiPP Working Papers 2203, University of Namur, Development Finance and Public Policies.
    4. Robert C. M. Beyer & Jiaxiong Yao & Yingyao Hu, 2022. "Measuring Quarterly Economic Growth from Outer Space," IMF Working Papers 2022/109, International Monetary Fund.
    5. Jules Gazeaud & Victor Stephane, 2020. "Productive workfare? Evidence from Ethiopia’s productive safety net program," NOVAFRICA Working Paper Series wp2003, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Nova School of Business and Economics, NOVAFRICA.
    6. Mian Yang & Wenjie Fan & Jian Qiu & Sining Zhang & Jinting Li, 2022. "The Evaluation of Rural Outdoor Dining Environment from Consumer Perspective," IJERPH, MDPI, vol. 19(21), pages 1-16, October.
    7. Owen Sally & Noy Ilan & Pástor-Paz Jacob & Fleming David, 2021. "Measuring the Impact of Insurance on Recovery after Extreme Weather Events Using Nightlights," Asia-Pacific Journal of Risk and Insurance, De Gruyter, vol. 15(2), pages 169-199, July.
    8. John Gibson & Susan Olivia & Geua Boe-Gibson, 2019. "A Test of DMSP and VIIRS Night Lights Data for Estimating GDP and Spatial Inequality for Rural and Urban Areas," Working Papers in Economics 19/11, University of Waikato.
    9. Zhengyu Shi & Libo Wu & Haoqi Qian & Yingjie Tian, 2021. "Inferring Economic Condition Uncertainty from Electricity Big Data," Papers 2107.11593, arXiv.org.
    10. Jingjing Zhang & Qian Zhou & Min Cao & Hong Liu, 2022. "Spatiotemporal Change of Eco-Environmental Quality in the Oasis City and Its Correlation with Urbanization Based on RSEI : A Case Study of Urumqi, China," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 14(15), pages 1-21, July.
    11. Omoniyi Alimi & Geua Boe-Gibson & John Gibson, 2022. "Noisy Night Lights Data: Effects on Research Findings for Developing Countries," Working Papers in Economics 22/12, University of Waikato.
    12. Gibson, John & Olivia, Susan & Boe-Gibson, Geua & Li, Chao, 2021. "Which night lights data should we use in economics, and where?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 149(C).
    13. Sharma, Hari & Gibson, John, 2020. "Escalation of civil war in Nepal: The role of poverty, inequality and caste polarisation," MPRA Paper 101450, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Fraenkel, Jon & Filer, Colin, 2022. "Prisoners of a distant past? Linguistic diversity and the time-depth of human settlement in Papua New Guinea," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 157(C).
    15. John Gibson, 2020. "Deforestation and Resource Conflicts in Papua New Guinea," Working Papers in Economics 20/02, University of Waikato.
    16. Jaqueson Galimberti & Stefan Pichler & Regina Pleninger, 2020. "Measuring Inequality using Geospatial Data," Working Papers 2020-07, Auckland University of Technology, Department of Economics.
    17. John Gibson & Bonggeun Kim & Geua Boe-Gibson, 2022. "How effective are sanctions on North Korea? Popular DMSP night-lights data may bias evaluations due to blurring and poor low-light detection," Working Papers in Economics 22/06, University of Waikato, revised 14 Nov 2022.
    18. Jesson A. Pagaduan, 2022. "Do higher‐quality nighttime lights and net primary productivity predict subnational GDP in developing countries? Evidence from the Philippines," Asian Economic Journal, East Asian Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 288-317, September.
    19. Roberts,Mark, 2021. "Tracking Economic Activity in Response to the COVID-19 Crisis Using Nighttime Lights — The Case of Morocco," Policy Research Working Paper Series 9538, The World Bank.
    20. Cook, Nikolai M., 2022. "A Successful Replication of "Dust Pollution From the Sahara and African Infant Mortality"," I4R Discussion Paper Series 5, The Institute for Replication (I4R).
    21. Beyer, Robert & Yao, Jiaxiong & Hu, Yingyao, 2022. "Measuring Quarterly Economic Growth from Outer Space," VfS Annual Conference 2022 (Basel): Big Data in Economics 264007, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    22. John Gibson & Yi Jiang & Bambang Susantono, 2022. "Revisiting the role of secondary towns: Effects of different types of urban growth on poverty in Indonesia," Working Papers in Economics 22/05, University of Waikato.
    23. John Gibson, 2021. "Better Night Lights Data, For Longer," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 83(3), pages 770-791, June.
    24. Idriss Fontaine & Sabine Garabedian & Hélène Vérèmes, 2022. "The current and future costs of tropical cyclones: A case study of La Réunion," TEPP Working Paper 2022-10, TEPP.
    25. John Gibson & Geua Boe-Gibson, 2020. "Three Facts About Night Lights Data," Working Papers in Economics 20/03, University of Waikato.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Density; development; DMSP; luminosity; night lights; VIIRS;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)

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