How do different ethnic groups move? Studies based on mobile phone data

The settlement processes of different social and ethnic groups is a very relevant area of research in contemporary multicultural society. Starting from the Chicago School of Sociology in the early twentieth century, segregation scholars have put a lot of effort into understanding segregation processes based on the spatial distribution of people’s places of residence.

Residential segregation can be the outcome of various causal factors, such as socio-economic differences, preferences, social networks, life experiences, and different policies. However, along with new data collection methods and analysis techniques, it is possible to analyse also other activity sites of human behaviour.

The notion of activity space includes a diverse set of human activity sites where people of different background can meet and interact with each other, such as place of residence, but also workplace, school, leisure time, and commuting. The importance of considering the full range of human activities is important to better understand the underlying mechanisms of the process and to seek answers to the questions as to why segregation processes are so persistent in time and how the vicious circle of segregation can be broken.  

With anonymous mobile phone data, it is possible to cover the full range of human activities, which was not possible solely using census and registry data. Mobile phone data enables researchers to understand the spatio-temporal dimension of human activities for different social groups.

Our research has shown that the Estonian- and Russian-speaking populations are distributed in Tallinn more evenly during the daytime, but more unevenly during the evening and nighttime. During special occasions such as holidays, spatial segregation tends to increase. The studies conducted with Tallinn inhabitants show that when leaving the capital city, Russian and Estonian speakers tend to visit different municipalities and districts, which are related to their social networks. Russian speakers pay more visits to East Estonia, but their activity space range is smaller when compared with Estonian speakers.

These differences, in fact, occur across all age groups and are more pronounced in younger age groups. The combination of traditional (census, registries) and new datasets (mobile phone) facilitates more precise knowledge that is important for scholars but also for policy-makers.

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