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Using the global positioning system in household surveys for better economics and better policy

  • Gibson, John
  • McKenzie, David

Distance and location are important determinants of many choices that economists study. While these variables can sometimes be obtained from secondary data, economists often rely on information that is self-reported by respondents in surveys. These self-reports are used especially for the distance from households or community centers to various features such as roads, markets, schools, clinics, and other public services. There is growing evidence that self-reported distance is measured with error and that these errors are correlated with outcomes of interest. In contrast to self-reports, the Global Positioning System (GPS) can determine almost exact location (typically within 15 meters). The falling cost of GPS receivers (typically below US$100) makes it increasingly feasible for field surveys to use GPS as a better method of measuring location and distance. In this paper the authors review four ways that GPS can lead to better economics and better policy: (1) through constructing instrumental variables that can be used to understand the causal impact of policies, (2) by helping to understand policy externalities and spillovers, (3) through better understanding of access to services, and (4) by improving the collection of household survey data. They also discuss several pitfalls and unresolved problems with using GPS in household surveys.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 4195.

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Date of creation: 01 Apr 2007
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4195
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  1. Gilles Duranton & Henry G. Overman, 2002. "Testing for localisation using micro-geographic data," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20071, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  2. Fafchamps, Marcel & Wahba, Jackline, 2006. "Child labor, urban proximity, and household composition," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 374-397, April.
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  4. Oster, Emily, 2012. "HIV and sexual behavior change: Why not Africa?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 35-49.
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  9. Gibson, John & Olivia, Susan, 2007. "Spatial autocorrelation and non-farm rural enterprises in Indonesia," 2007 Conference (51st), February 13-16, 2007, Queenstown, New Zealand 10387, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
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  19. Rosero-Bixby, Luis, 2004. "Spatial access to health care in Costa Rica and its equity: a GIS-based study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 58(7), pages 1271-1284, April.
  20. Rebecca L. Thornton, 2008. "The Demand for, and Impact of, Learning HIV Status," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(5), pages 1829-63, December.
  21. Staal, S. J. & Baltenweck, I. & Waithaka, M. M. & deWolff, T. & Njoroge, L., 2002. "Location and uptake: integrated household and GIS analysis of technology adoption and land use, with application to smallholder dairy farms in Kenya," Agricultural Economics, Blackwell, vol. 27(3), pages 295-315, November.
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  25. Rosenthal, Stuart S. & Strange, William C., 2008. "The attenuation of human capital spillovers," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 373-389, September.
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