Came across this late last night. I have no idea when this was published, but I assume it’s pretty recent, as the NYT’s previous map is based on sample data from 2005 to 2009 instead of the actual 2010 census count.
There’s everyone else, and then there’s the NYT. And we’re proven this fact yet again with his crazy demographic map based on U.S. Census data. You can get very detailed with this thang. We think they’re just showing off this time. source
So the last map from this series has been making the rounds here on Tumblr. The point of the original article is that there is a growing education gap in America, but it’s been interpreted in the reblogs and comments as “hyuk, hyuk, America is getting stupider.” Well, it may feel that way, but I don’t think we can draw that conclusion from these maps.
The maps depict deviation from the national average in the percentage of people holding college degrees, with red representing below average (fewer degree holders) and blue above; the deeper the color, the greater the deviation. Over time, you can see an increase in the deep red counties. So there’s a brain drain from all these counties right? Not necessarily. Notice that the percentage of degree-holders has increased nationally in this time, so a county where, say, 25% of its adults have college degrees would have been mapped as blue in 1990 but fallen into pink in 2009. Granted, standing still while others move forward is effectively the same as falling behind, but it doesn’t mean the people are becoming less educated in absolute terms.
That said, the maps don’t help matters with their sloppy execution. Many commenters have pointed out the misspelling in the 2009 map’s title. There is also confusion about the first map as its title says 1990 but legend says 2000. Further, the legend does not clearly distinguish the cut-off points between the categories. Taking the 1990 map as an example again, would a county with a 20% degree-holding population be above average or below?