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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Night-time Lights of the USA

Dickinson, Jeffrey (2020): Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Night-time Lights of the USA.

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This paper seeks to advance understanding of the lights-income relationship by linking the newest generation of night-time satellite images, the VIIRS images, to nationwide, panel data on 3,101 US counties, including data on both population and income. I leverage the quality and frequency of those data sources and the VIIRS lights images to decompose the links between population growth, official GDP growth, and nighttime lights growth at the county level. I use a between-county estimator to identify the effects of time-invariant infrastructure features on night-time light. Roads, rail, ports, and airports I find to be strong contributors to increases in light. I find GDP growth is weakly linked with night-time lights though light growth is strongly linked with population growth even when controlling for substantial non-linearities which appear to be present.

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