Mapping the geography of academic attainment

Which populations have what level of educational attainment?  Put another way, how does academic achievement spread out across a population?

Educational attainment legendKyle Walker (TCU) has mapped out the entire continental United States by degree level.

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 The results are fascinating, offering keen insights into American education and culture.  They often display clear-cut separations between populations, often within a single city.

Walker set up five levels of education (less than high school, high school diploma, some college, BA/BS, graduate work; pictured to right), analyzed US Census data, then mashed the results across OpenStreetMap.  Individual colored dots represent between twenty-five and several hundred people.  You can dive in and zoom out for different areas.

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 Code and more information are up on Github.

To give a sense of how it works, here’s a screenshot of a chunk of New York City.

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 Remember the color scheme, with blue being the most educated, and red the least.

Educational attainment_NYC

Manhattan, one of the world’s richest areas, is a bright blue bar of advanced education.  In contrast, Queens etc. generally plummet down the academic attainment ladder.

A similarly stark divide appears in the Chicago area:

Educational attainment_Chicago

College and grad school work up close to the lake, then things fall off a few miles inland.

Seattle’s divides are less stark, but still visible:

Eductional attainment Seattle

Boston reveals a similar pattern.

Some cities mix degrees with more intertwining, like Dallas-Forth Worth:

Educational attainment Dallas Ft Worth

The Detroit area offers more divides, but unusually arranged.  Be sure to notice Ann Arbor off to the west, and the rich spike of Grosse Pointe on the water:

Educational attainment_Detroit AA

In contrast to richer, “creative class” oriented cities, Detroit’s core is undereducated.

What do these maps tell us?

We are massively, deeply divided by education.  Sometimes the divide is urban (high attainment) versus rural (low), while at other times the gaps cut across a city’s or town’s interior. From that link above: “In Boston, the segregation of those with degrees and those without is clearly visible by neighborhood.”

Education is allied to and partially expressed by other forces, including class and race.  In a sense the Walker maps use education to flag those persistent divides.  From the cartographer,

In one aspect, this map speaks to national discussions around social and political polarization between metropolitan and rural areas. Bachelor’s and graduate degree holders tend to cluster in cities, as opposed to rural areas where a high school education is more common. However, within metropolitan areas, the map also reflects the achievement gap that is associated with racial and economic segregation.

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In many cases, neighborhood-to-neighborhood differences are quite distinct.

If Bishop, Putnam, and others are right, Walker’s visualizations portray an American society increasingly divided, and education playing a role in both marking and constructing those gaps.

(thanks to MetaFilter for some discussion)

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5 Responses to Mapping the geography of academic attainment

  1. That is absolutely riveting infomation! Seattle surprises me because Microsoft is out in Redmond, and I don’t think of people actually living downtown–but you can see the university area. Must share!

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    more divides, as an education rural resident going on 17+ years, this is no surprise — except maybe its not having been articulated before. I remember an architectural presentation overlaying transparencies to show change over time in a city. Something similar with divides could be very interesting too.

    Certainly, I would expect much overlap, especially in certain areas, esp poverty associated ones. But how do all the various divides line up? What about alignments between academic achievement and different factors taken as conventional wisdom?

  3. Steve Kaye says:

    I’d love to see a time-lapse version with historical data.

  4. Pingback: On the solstice, dark thoughts for 2018 | Bryan Alexander

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