, Volume 50, Issue 3, pp 1105-1128

First online:

New Approaches to Human Mobility: Using Mobile Phones for Demographic Research

  • John R. B. PalmerAffiliated withWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and Office of Population Research, Princeton University Email author 
  • , Thomas J. EspenshadeAffiliated withOffice of Population Research and Department of Sociology, Princeton University
  • , Frederic BartumeusAffiliated withCenter for Advanced Studies of Blanes, CEAB-CSIC
  • , Chang Y. ChungAffiliated withOffice of Population Research, Princeton University
  • , Necati Ercan OzgencilAffiliated withSyncsort
  • , Kathleen LiAffiliated withGoogle

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This article explores new methods for gathering and analyzing spatially rich demographic data using mobile phones. It describes a pilot study (the Human Mobility Project) in which volunteers around the world were successfully recruited to share GPS and cellular tower information on their trajectories and respond to dynamic, location-based surveys using an open-source Android application. The pilot study illustrates the great potential of mobile phone methodology for moving spatial measures beyond residential census units and investigating a range of important social phenomena, including the heterogeneity of activity spaces, the dynamic nature of spatial segregation, and the contextual dependence of subjective well-being.


Spatial demography Activity space Segregation Subjective well-being Ecological momentary assessment