Big Data and the Well-Being of Women and Girls: Applications on the Social Scientific Frontier

Big Data and the Well-Being of Women and Girls: Applications on the Social Scientific Frontier

Geospatial analysis, digital "exhaust," and big Internet datasets can help address global gender disparities by filling gaps in sex-disaggregated data from traditional sources such as surveys and administrative statistics, a report from the United Nations Foundation's Data2X initiative finds. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and William and Flora Hewlett foundations, the report, Big Data and the Well-Being of Women and Girls: Applications on the Social Scientific Frontier (40 pages, PDF), highlights the use of satellite imagery to map existing data with respect to girls' stunting, female literacy, and access to modern contraception; anonymized credit card and cell phone data to describe patterns of expenditure and mobility; and a Twitter-based tool for identifying signs of depression. Satellite imagery can also provide more up-to-date information about women's well-being by linking variables such as the presence and/or condition of roads to indicators of well-being, while cell phone and credit card data can help capture, in real time, the impact of economic and environmental shocks. The study further argues that while social media-focused methodologies have their limitations, they do provide a fairly accurate barometer of mental health conditions in a population.