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

Nathalie E Williams and Adrian Dobra

November 2013 CSSS Working Paper #137



Human mobility, or movement over short or long spaces for short or long periods of time, is an important yet under-studied phenomenon in the social and demographic sciences. The rarity of research on mobility is likely due to the difficulty in measuring mobility with surveys and censuses. In this paper, we use a different data source, cell phone call records and develop, test, and compare five measures of mobility. Cell phone data provide a unique and unprecedented opportunity to study mobility around the world and with this data source, we are able to measure mobility, or daily movements of short or long duration and short or long distances, of around 1.5 million people living in Rwanda between 2005 -2009.