Predicting socioeconomic indicators using transfer learning on imagery data: an application in Brazil

Diego A Castro, Mauricio A Álvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Censuses and other surveys responsible for gathering socioeconomic data are expensive and time consuming. For this reason, in poor and developing countries there often is a long gap between these surveys, which hinders the appropriate formulation of public policies as well as the development of researches. One possible approach to overcome this challenge for some socioeconomic indicators is to use satellite imagery to estimate these variables, although it is not possible to replace demographic census surveys completely due to its territorial coverage, level of disaggregation of information and large set of information. Even though using orbital images properly requires, at least, a basic remote sensing knowledge level, these images have the advantage of being commonly free and easy to access. In this paper, we use daytime and nighttime satellite imagery and apply a transfer learning technique to estimate average income, GDP per capita and a constructed water index at the city level in two Brazilian states, Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul. The transfer learning approach could explain up to 64% of the variation in city-level variables depending on the state and variable. Although data from different countries may be considerably different, results are consistent with the literature and encouraging as it is a first analysis of its kind for Brazil.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1081-1102
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • socioeconomic indicators
  • satellite imagery
  • transfer learning
  • machine learning


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