Measurement of Human Mobility Using Cell Phone Data: Developing Big Data for Demographic Science

Nathalie Williams, University of Washington
Timothy Thomas, University of Washington
Matt Dunbar, University of Washington
Nathan Eagle, Harvard University
Adrian Dobra, University of Washington

In the past decade, large scale mobile phone data has become available for the study of human movement patterns and holds immense promise for studying human behavior on a vast scale and with a precision and accuracy never before possible. A significant body of literature has made key inroads into understanding mobility using this exciting new data source, and there have been several different measures of mobility used. However, we argue that existing measures are contaminated by infrastructure and demographic and social characteristics of a population. In this article, we discuss problems with existing mobile phone based measures of mobility and describe new methods for measuring mobility that address these concerns. Our measures are designed to address the spatial and social nature of human mobility, to remain independent of and unadulterated by social, economic, political, or demographic characteristics of context, and to be comparable across geographic regions and time.

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Presented in Session 191: Big Data for Demographic Research