Which populations have what level of educational attainment? Put another way, how does academic achievement spread out across a population?
Kyle Walker (TCU) has mapped out the entire continental United States by degree level. 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. 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. Remember the color scheme, with blue being the most educated, and red the least.
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:
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:
Some cities mix degrees with more intertwining, like Dallas-Forth 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:
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 Boston.com link above: “In Boston, the segregation of those with degrees and those without is clearly visible by neighborhood.”
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. 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.