Perpetual Motion: Human Mobility and Spatial Frictions in Three African Countries
Title: Perpetual Motion: Human Mobility and Spatial Frictions in Three African Countries
Abstract: This paper explores the within-country movements of people in three African countries. Al-though previous studies in other low-income settings have examined patterns of seasonalmigration and daily commuting, much less is known about mobility at other temporalfrequencies. This paper draws on a novel source of data from smartphone locations. Thesedata allow us to observe the movements of a large set of individuals over a one-year pe-riod. We can characterize with considerable detail the locations that people visit and thefrequency with which they make trips. The average smartphone user in our data venturesmore than 10 km from home on 12-15% of the days when they are observed. On average,when we observe them away from home, our users are typically 35-50 km from home. Wecan characterize many of the specific locations that people visit when they are away fromhome. These include locations associated with shops and markets, government offices, andplaces offering a range of goods, services, and recreational venues. Big cities seem to beparticularly important destinations, perhaps reflecting the range of amenities that theyoffer to visitors. We develop a conceptual framework that characterizes the role of visitsfor individuals and provides a number of testable predictions that are consistent with themovement patterns that we observe in the data. Although our sample of smartphone usersis not representative of national populations, their mobility patterns offer useful insightsinto spatial frictions and the geographic patterns of economic activity.