Comparison of spatial interpolation methods to create high-resolution poverty maps for low- and middle-income countries

Kerry L. M. Wong, Oliver J. Brady, Oona M. R. Campbell, Lenka Benova

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review


High-resolution poverty maps are important tools for promoting equitable and sustainable development. In settings without data at every location, we can use spatial interpolation (SI) to create such maps using sample-based surveys and additional covariates. In the model-based geostatistics (MBG) framework for SI, it is typically assumed that the similarity of two areas is inversely related to their distance between one another. Applications of spline interpolation take a contrasting approach that an area's absolute location and its characteristics are more important for prediction than distance to/characteristics of other locations. This study compares prediction accuracy of the MBG approach with spline interpolation as part of a generalized additive model (GAM) for four low- and middle-income countries. We also identify any potentially generalizable data characteristics influencing comparative accuracy. We found spatially scattered pockets of wealth in Malawi and Tanzania (corresponding to the major cities), and overarching spatial gradients in Kenya and Nigeria. Spline interpolation/GAM performed better than MBG for Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania, but marginally worse in Kenya. We conclude that the spatial patterns of wealth and other covariates should be carefully accounted for when choosing the best SI approach. This is particularly pertinent as different methods capture geographical variation differently.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180252
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number147
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • spatial interpolation
  • poverty mapping
  • wealth inequality
  • low- and middle-income countries


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