Postal big data: Global flows as proxy indicators for national wellbeing

Data Driven Journalism: “A new project has developed an innovative means to approximate socioeconomic indicators by analyzing the network of international postal flows.

The project used 14 million 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.

In addition, the project builds upon previous research efforts using global flow networks, derived from the five following open data sources:

For each network, a country’s degree of connectivity for incoming and outgoing flows was quantified using the Jaccard coefficient and Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient….

To understand these connections in the context of socioeconomic indicators, the researchers then compared these positions to the values of GDP, Life expectancy, Corruption Perception Index, Internet penetration rate, Happiness index, Gini index, Economic Complexity Index, Literacy, Poverty, CO2 emissions, Fixed phone line penetration, Mobile phone users, and the Human Development Index.


Image: Spearman rank correlations between global flow network degrees and socioeconomic indicators (CC BY 4.0).

From this analysis, the researchers revealed that:

  • The best-performing degree, in terms of consistently high performance across indicators is the global degree, suggesting that looking at how well connected a country is in the global multiplex can be more indicative of its socioeconomic profile as a whole than looking at single networks.
  • GDP per capita and life expectancy are most closely correlated with the global degree, closely followed by the postal, trade and IP weighed degrees – indicative of a relationship between national wealth and the flow of goods and information.
  • Similarly to GDP, the rate of poverty of a country is best represented by the global degree, followed by the postal degree. The negative correlation indicates that the more impoverished a country is, the less well connected it is to the rest of the world.
  • Low human development (high rank) is most highly negatively correlated with the global degree, followed by the postal, trade and IP degrees. This shows that high human development (low rank) is associated with high global connectivity and activity in terms of incoming and outgoing flows of information and goods. ….Read the fully study here.”