Postal big data: Global flows as proxy indicators for national wellbeing

December 07, 2016 by Desislava Hristova, Alex Rutherford, Jose Anson, Miguel Luengo-Oroz, Cecilia Mascolo

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The digital exhaust left by flows of physical and digital commodities provides a rich measure of the nature, strength and significance of relationships between countries in the global network. With this work, we examine how these traces and the network structure can reveal the socioeconomic profile of different countries. We take into account multiple international networks of physical and digital flows, including the previously unexplored international postal network. By measuring the position of each country in the Trade, Postal, Migration, International Flights, IP and Digital Communications networks, we are able to build proxies for a number of crucial socioeconomic indicators such as GDP per capita and the Human Development Index ranking along with twelve other indicators used as benchmarks of national well-being by the United Nations and other international organisations. In this context, we have also proposed and evaluated a global connectivity degree measure applying multiplex theory across the six networks that accounts for the strength of relationships between countries. We conclude by showing how countries with shared community membership over multiple networks have similar socioeconomic profiles. Combining multiple flow data sources can help understand the forces which drive economic activity on a global level. Such an ability to infer proxy indicators in a context of incomplete information is extremely timely in light of recent discussions on measurement of indicators relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals.