This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Inequalities Among the Baby Boomers

I recently discussed the neighborhoods where the richest Americans live. Justin Stoler pointed out to me that today's NYTimes has an interesting analysis by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz using data from Wikipedia to figure out the geographic origins of "notable" baby boomers. This sort of turns the story around and asks not where you end up, but where did you start? The "who" in the story are people for whom there is an entry in Wikipedia. These are the "notable" people, meaning that they have achieved enough fame for someone to think it worthwhile to include them. Such fame probably also brings its share of fortune, but those data aren't necessarily available. Fame is the only consideration here. He focused on baby boomers since they are old enough to have accomplished something, if they are going to do so (a cohort analysis, in other words), and he focused on where they were born because that information was consistently available.
WHERE do the most successful Americans come from? I was curious. So I downloaded Wikipedia. (You can do that sort of thing nowadays.)
With a little coding, I had a data set of more than 150,000 Americans deemed by Wikipedia’s editors to be notable. The data set included county of birth, date of birth, occupation and gender. I merged it with county-level birth data gathered by the National Center for Health Statistics. For every county in the United States, I calculated the odds of making it to Wikipedia if you were born there.
Roughly one in 2,058 American-born baby boomers were deemed notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry. About 30 percent made it through art or entertainment, 29 percent through sports, 9 percent through politics, and 3 percent through academia or science.
The first striking fact in the data was the enormous geographic variation in the likelihood of becoming a big success, at least on Wikipedia’s terms. Your chances of achieving notability were highly dependent on where you were born.
Roughly one in 1,209 baby boomers born in California reached Wikipedia. Only one in 4,496 baby boomers born in West Virginia did. Roughly one in 748 baby boomers born in Suffolk County, Mass., which contains Boston, made it to Wikipedia. In some counties, the success rate was 20 times lower.
Where you were born depends on where your parents lived, of course, and it turns out that living near colleges and places with higher than average numbers of immigrants seem to characterize the top-rated places of origin, as shown in the table below:

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