Building Proxy Indicators of National Wellbeing with Postal Data

PARTNER: University of Cambridge, Universal Postal Union

PROGRAMME AREA: Economic Wellbeing

LAB: Pulse Lab New York

DOWNLOAD SUMMARY: UN Global Pulse, “Building Proxy Indicators of National Wellbeing with Postal Data ”, Project Series, no. 22, 2016 [PDF]


Timely information on the socioeconomic wellbeing of communities is essential to ensure they receive effective provision of services. Many sources of big data, from mobile data to social media data, have previously been shown to yield useful proxies for socioeconomic indicators. However, digital data sources typically exhibit deeper penetration in developed economies than in developing ones, and they often rely on expensive technologies such as smartphones and a robust communications infrastructure. 

This study investigated for the first time the potential of using the network of international postal flows to approximate socioeconomic indicators typically used to benchmark national wellbeing. The research used aggregated electronic postal records from 187 countries collected by the Universal Postal Union over a four-year period (2010-2014) to create an international network showing the way post flows around the world. This enabled the building of proxy indicators or proxies for a number of fourteen socioeconomic indicators, demonstrating new approaches to approximating indicators such as the Human Development Index (HDI) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In addition, the postal data was combined with data from other global networks – trade, migration, international flights, Internet protocol (IP addresses) and digital communications – to produce novel multidimensional connectivity indicators.