On February 2, GSL Investigator Mathieu Poirier published a study in Population Health Metrics discussing the impact of including smartphone ownership data for wealth indices in low- and middle-income countries.
In the study, the authors found in a survey in Burkina Faso that households that own smartphones have higher monthly expenditures and own a greater quantity and quality of household assets. Wealth indices calculated using smartphone ownership data result in significantly higher expenditure, education, and diabetes prevalence.
The results imply that wealth indices may be skewed for the hundreds of current and planned household surveys that make use of a Principal Component Analysis approach to construct wealth indices in LMICs. In contexts where smartphone ownership is more common, the lack of smartphone ownership data may affect different segments of the socioeconomic spectrum.
Including smartphone data in wealth index surveys would not only be an easily implemented and inexpensive adaptation to improve the performance of wealth indices, but it would offer added benefits of informing intervention planning using this emerging channel to reach households with messaging, training activities, social media engagement, and smartphone applications to promote health in contexts around the world.