American Economic Review: Vol. 102 No. 2 (April 2012)


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Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space

Article Citation

Henderson, J. Vernon, Adam Storeygard, and David N. Weil. 2012. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space." American Economic Review, 102(2): 994-1028.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.102.2.994


We develop a statistical framework to use satellite data on night lights to augment official income growth measures. For countries with poor national income accounts, the optimal estimate of growth is a composite with roughly equal weights on conventionally measured growth and growth predicted from lights. Our estimates differ from official data by up to three percentage points annually. Using lights, empirical analyses of growth need no longer use countries as the unit of analysis; we can measure growth for sub- and supranational regions. We show, for example, that coastal areas in sub-Saharan Africa are growing slower than the hinterland. (JEL E01, E23, O11, 047, 057)

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Henderson, J. Vernon (Brown U)
Storeygard, Adam (Brown U)
Weil, David N. (Brown U)

JEL Classifications

E01: Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
E23: Macroeconomics: Production
O11: Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
O47: Measurement of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
O57: Comparative Studies of Countries

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