Bivariate Proportional Symbol Maps, Part 1: An Introduction

By Jonathan Schroeder, IPUMS Research Scientist, NHGIS Project Manager

A powerful, underused mapping technique

The world could use a lot more bivariate proportional symbol maps. These maps pair two basic visual variables—size and (usually) color—to symbolize two characteristics of mapped features. When designed well, they convey multiple key dimensions of a population all at once: size and composition as well as spatial distribution and density.

A map of the share of population under age 18 in the Miami area in 2020. There is one colored circle for each census tract. There are five colors ranging from dark blue (representing less than 15% under age 18) to light green (representing 20 to 25% under age 18) to brown (representing 30% or more). The circle sizes correspond to tract populations. Most circles have similar sizes, representing around 1,000 to 10,000 people. The circles cluster together forming groups where there are more tracts and more people. The circles in central Miami and along the coast are bluer than elsewhere.
A bivariate proportional symbol map.
Click map for larger version.

Unfortunately, standard mapping software hasn’t made it easy to create good versions of these maps, and most introductions to statistical mapping stick to simpler strategies. As a result, bivariate proportional symbols aren’t used very often. With few examples and little guidance to go on, it’s understandable that mapmakers don’t realize how often they’re a viable, well-suited option.

This two-part blog series aims to spark more interest by providing a “few examples” (Part 1) and a “little guidance” (Part 2).

Picking up where I left off

In a previous blog post, I shared an example of a bivariate proportional symbol map and described some of the technique’s advantages. But that post focuses on a mapping resource (census centers of population) rather than on mapping techniques. Most of the examples in the post are also simply “proportional symbol maps,” without the more intriguing “bivariate” part.

To close that post, I suggested “a tantalizing next step” would be to use bivariate proportional symbols with small-area data (for census tracts or block groups), and I shared a few technical notes and design tips without much detail. I later expanded on those ideas in a conference talk, sharing some new examples with small-area data and going a little deeper with design tips.

In these new posts, I’m sharing and building on the examples and tips from the conference talk.

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IPUMS Announces 2022 Research Award Recipients

IPUMS research awardsWe are excited to announce the winners of our annual IPUMS Research Awards competition. These awards honor outstanding published research and graduate student papers from 2022 that use IPUMS data to advance or deepen our understanding of social and demographic processes.

The 2022 competition awarded prizes for the best published and best graduate student research in eight categories:

  • IPUMS USA, providing data from the U.S. decennial censuses, the American Community Survey, and includes full count data, from 1850 to the present.
  • IPUMS CPS, providing data from the monthly U.S. labor force survey, the Current Population Survey (CPS), from 1962 to the present.
  • IPUMS International, providing harmonized data contributed by more than 100 international statistical office partners for over 500 censuses and surveys from around the world for 1960 forward as well as full count historical (NAPP) data.
  • IPUMS Health Surveys, which makes available the U.S. National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS).
  • IPUMS Spatial, covering IPUMS NHGIS, IPUMS IHGIS, and IPUMS Terra. NHGIS includes GIS boundary files from 1790 to the present; IHGIS provides data tables from population and housing censuses as well as agricultural censuses from around the world; Terra provides data on population and the environment from 1960 to the present.
  • IPUMS Global Health, providing harmonized data from the Demographic and Health Surveys and the Performance Monitoring and Accountability surveys, for low and middle-income countries from the 1980s to the present.
  • IPUMS Time Use, providing time diary data from the U.S. and around the world from 1965 to the present.
  • IPUMS Excellence in Research, this award is an opportunity to highlight and reward outstanding work using any of the IPUMS data collections by authors who are underrepresented in social science research.

The awards committee reviewed hundreds of submissions; from these, we selected the 2022 winners.

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IPUMS FAQ: What are Virtual Office Hours?

by Amy Grotsun and Kari Williams

FAQ in speech bubbleWhile scrolling through an IPUMS email or checking up on the latest IPUMS tweets you may have read about IPUMS Virtual Office Hours. You also probably wondered, “What even are virtual office hours?” Today we are here to answer that question.

In the wake of canceled conferences during spring of 2020, IPUMS wanted to create an opportunity to connect with data users about questions they might have when using the data–the kind of thing you might pop by the exhibit hall booth to ask. We found that we connected with virtual conference attendees as expected, but many other IPUMS data users as well. As in-person conferences resume, we will continue to host virtual office hours quarterly so we can continue connecting with a broad range of IPUMS users.

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