Tracking Employment Shocks with Mobile Phone Data



Studies using massive, passively data collected from communication technologies have revealed many ubiquitous aspects of social networks, helping us understand and model social media, information diffusion, and organizational dynamics. More recently, these data have come tagged with geographic information, enabling studies of human mobility patterns and the science of cities. We combine these two pursuits and uncover reproducible mobility patterns amongst social contacts. First, we introduce measures of mobility similarity and predictability and measure them for populations of users in three large urban areas. We find individuals’ visitations patterns are far more similar to and predictable by social contacts than strangers and that these measures are positively correlated with tie strength. Unsupervised clustering of hourly variations in mobility similarity identifies three categories of social ties and suggests geography is an important feature to contextualize social relationships. We find that the composition of a user’s ego network in terms of the type of contacts they keep is correlated with mobility behavior. Finally, we extend a popular mobility model to include movement choices based on social contacts and compare it’s ability to reproduce empirical measurements with two additional models of mobility.

Arxiv link.

Journal of the Royal Society Interface link.

MIT Technology Review article.

Wall Street Journal “Real Time Economics” blog article.