Measuring gender inequalities using web data

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals call for member states to promote ‘gender equality and empower all women and girls’ (SDG Goal 5). Despite the adoption of gender equality targets in international development frameworks, monitoring progress towards gender equality, particularly in less developed countries, is significantly limited due to data gaps. Digital trace data from the web offers promise in this setting for ‘nowcasting’, or in other words generating real-time measurements of social indicators in the present. In this talk, I will present two examples of data innovation that illustrate how web data can be used for nowcasting development indicators related to gender equality. First, I will show how Google search data for ultrasound technology (a precondition for prenatal sex selection) can be used to generate nowcasts of sex ratios at birth in contexts such as India where official data reporting is lagging. Second, I will describe how data from Facebook’s advertisement platform, which provides aggregate data on Facebook users by demographic characteristics covering the platform’s over 2 billion users, can be used to measure global gender gaps in internet and mobile phone access.