I am planning a project to look at the spatial-temporal spread of income over time. Hence, I am looking for data on household or individual level income information for India, China, and East/West African nations--with spatial coordinates or GIS info. This is really a comparative study of development. So I was wondering if there are any good open sources of data on income for these nations. I am i This type of information is pretty hard to come by, so I thought that perhaps there might be some decent proxy variables for income, such as consumption information, or living standards, even child mortality. I would like to stick with the original variable of income if I could and explore alternative proxies if I have to. I can build a web scrapper if I have to and attack the problem that way, but I was not sure of was sources of information exist and what website I would scrape if I could.

Also note I am hoping to stay away from highly aggregated information because I am worried about losing too much information in the averaging process.

  • What level of aggregation do you actually need (household, cohort etc.)? If you need data on income, you can't substitute mortality. Have you tried World Bank, local population censuses, or longitudinal studies? Jun 17, 2013 at 9:30
  • @DeerHunger, I have looked at the World Bank data, and population censuses. What I would like to do is examine the spread of economic development over space and time. So what I am looking is for more specific data: household or individual income with spatial GIS coordinates--something that lets me look at the spatial trend. Most of the World Bank or census data is aggregrated by country, state, or district. This aggregated data tends to average out the spatial effects and so I cannot really see the spread of development. Perhaps I should mention GIS coordinates in the original post.
    – krishnab
    Jun 19, 2013 at 2:47
  • Afraid I don't know any such sources for these countries. As a rough proxy, one can simply look at the night lighting: geology.com/articles/satellite-photo-earth-at-night.shtml HTH. Jun 19, 2013 at 6:10
  • Ahh, I thought about using lighting info for this purpose. I also thought about using some remote sensing info, like hyperspectral satellite info to get a sense of industrial versus agricultural land use and such. That would also be a rough proxy of income levels. Have you seen any info on using remote sensing information for these purposes.
    – krishnab
    Jun 19, 2013 at 7:17
  • Land use data can't tell you much about city-dwellers or income levels. You can ask folks at GIS SE for details, though. Electricity is one universal proxy. Access to sanitation is another (albeit a non-linear one). Jun 19, 2013 at 7:21

4 Answers 4


Speaking as a non-professional, I have seen no such detailed datasets.

Your research should not depend on clueless strangers, though. My first hit on Chinese statistics was: http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/statisticaldata/ , and I'd think they are worth exploring. Same for India.

Gathering detailed income data is fraught with difficulty on many levels: the ones with access to the high-fidelity data (local tax authorities) won't talk for a host of reasons, apart from confidentiality (quite often they won't be bothered to help other government agencies), while aggregation over villages/counties/whatever lowest-level administrative units is not something in high demand from national and supranational decision-makers. I leave aside the obvious problems of tax evasion, non-response, and outright fabrication.

Thus, for countries with less than well-funded statistical agencies, one is forced to look for proxies.

The usual proxy is electricity consumption; while the utilities are loath to give outsiders access, as a rough proxy, one can simply look at the night lighting: http://geology.com/articles/satellite-photo-earth-at-night.shtml.

I'd recommend against turning to land use data - they can't tell you much about city-dwellers or income levels. You can ask folks at GIS SE for details, though.

Access to sanitation is another proxy (albeit a non-linear one). World Bank, local authorities, utility companies, food inspection agencies can possibly serve as sources, I'd guess.

Whatever you do, please remember to compile a list of references, prior and related studies, validate and cross-check your data. Ideally, you would do an on-site survey for that (assuming you have got some money to spend). Beware of systematic bias creeping in (it will!) without you noticing or telling users of your data.


You can use the National Sample Survey Data. You wont get income,but you will get consumption data per household. The smallest level that you can go to is a district. A district is the rough equivalent to a county in US,though slightly larger in most cases.

You will get access to electricity also in the same data set. Its not a public data set. You can order it from the MOSPI website . It will cost you roughly about $110. I have the data set but its too big to be shared onine( its about a 1 GB and i am not sure how i can share it)

  • 1
    you can compress it or compress it into pieces, and then upload it to open data se's data portal datahub.io/organization/opendata-stackexchange and you can also upload it to github. they are now offering large file storage
    – albert
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:12

I've been looking for similar data sets for a while. The best I've found is Columbia University's "Small area estimates of poverty and inequality":


"consumption-based poverty, inequality and related measures for subnational administrative units in approximately twenty countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America"

You can download it as either a spreadsheet or a shapefile. It is based on older data however, 1991 - 2001.

It's not sub-national, but I would also highly recommend checking out the World Bank's time series data on all sorts of statistics at the country level. Go to this page, choose a topic like 'poverty', and then click on the download link on the page it takes you to:



Looks like you are searching for something very specific and specialized. Have you checked out Quandl's databases by country? Here's the collection for China: https://www.quandl.com/collections/china. You can check out the ones for India and African countries as well. Some databases are free and some require a premium membership to access. You can also browse data on https://www.quandl.com/browse. Hope this helps! [Disclosure: I work for Quandl]

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