A colorful dot map reveals the stark differences in educational levels across urban and rural areas—as well as the effects of racial segregation within cities.

Neighborhoods in which a person grows up affect his or her future earnings, longevity, and educational outcomes—all of which are, of course, interconnected. That’s vividly evident in a new dot map showing the distribution of the U.S. population by educational attainment.

This interactive visualization was created by Kyle Walker, a geography professor at Texas Christian University, who made the dot map of immigrants we’ve previously written about. (Both of Walker’s maps are influenced by demographic researcher Dustin Cable's racial dot map.)

Each dot in Walker’s new map represents between 25 to 500 people, depending on the level of zoom. The dots are color-coded based on five education levels. A graph on the left displays what share each category enjoys of the total, for the area displayed on the screen.

Here are some big trends evident in the map, according to Walker:

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.

You can clearly see that city-suburb divide in Seattle. The urban core is thick with with blue-green dots, because it has a high concentration of residents with Bachelor’s and graduate degrees, especially compared to the inland parts Washington state.

(Kyle Walker)

And here’s Chicago, where the polarization is visible not just between the city and surrounding areas, but also within the city:

(Kyle Walker)

In New York, much of Manhattan is an intensely blue island of degree-holders, with some slight spillover in Jersey City waterfront, Brooklyn, and Queens (first image below). Notice that stark transition from the deep-blue Upper East Side to yellow-red speckled East Harlem (in the second image), where more students and working-class residents live.

(Kyle Walker)
(Kyle Walker)

The educational attainment of parents in an area has an impact on the performance of their kids at school, according to a recent Stanford University study:

Achievement gaps are larger in districts where black and Hispanic students attend higher poverty schools than their white peers; where parents on average have high levels of educational attainment; and where large racial/ethnic gaps exist in parents’ educational attainment.

As with so many issues in American life, this all comes back to racial segregation, which is “inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools,” the study’s authors add. Walker’s maps are further evidence that neighborhoods with fewer opportunities—which are often the only ones low-income people of color can afford to live—can seal the fate of their residents for generations.

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