Night lights, as detected by satellites, are increasingly used by economists, typically as a proxy for economic activity. The growing popularity of these data reflects either the absence, or the presumed inaccuracy, of more conventional economic statistics, like national or regional GDP. Further growth in use of night lights is likely, as they have been included in the AidData geo-query tool for providing sub-national data, and in geographic data that the Demographic and Health Survey links to anonymised survey enumeration areas. Yet this ease of obtaining night lights data may lead to inappropriate use, if users fail to recognize that most of the satellites providing these data were not designed to assist economists, and have features that may threaten validity of analyses based on these data, especially for temporal comparisons, and for small and rural areas. In this paper we review sources of satellite data on night lights, discuss issues with these data, and survey some of their uses in economics.
Density development DMSP luminosity night lights VIIRS