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Infographic of the Day: Do Smarter People Make More Money?


We all know, at least vaguely, that a better education leads to better prospects in life. But is that really true? A superb map created by GOOD shows that it is — but thanks to the ingenuity of the map design, it also manages to reveal a good deal more about the links between education and money.

The map is actually quite unintuitive, but once you get the hang of it, it's amazing. So first, let's talk about the mapping method. Essentially, the idea was to show graduation rates of high school and college as pink and yellow respectively. The pinker a place, for example, the higher the high-school graduation rate. The third piece of the puzzle is median household income, shown in blue:


What's fascinating is that these three maps are laid over each other — and thus the color combinations become the really important thing to look for. If a county is, say, orange (rare, by the way, more on that soon), that's a combination of yellow and pink but not blue — thus the residents there are often high-school and college grads, but they don't make much money. But if an area is almost black, that means that it has a high percentage of high-school and college grads and the people make a lot of money.


[Click for full-sized version]

Now, let's back up. All those color combinations can be tremendously confusing, so the key here is: Look for the colors not represented. For example, one color you almost never see on the map is orange — meaning that those with higher education almost never end up in low-wage counties.

But two colors you see a lot of are pinks and deep blues. Pink means that in this day and age, simply having a high school education often doesn't lead to improved job prospects. The deep blue, meanwhile, shows how common it is for college graduates to be living where wages are high. (You can almost conclude that college graduates make more money, but since this map shows counties rather than individual people, that inference is just beyond reach.)

And two final notes: There are some tiny pockets of the U.S. where decent money is made without very high rates of education — these are shown in the places that are blue. But these counties are few and they're not very blue — meaning that wages aren't that high. (We'd wager that these are rural factory towns — places where a car factory defines the entire county, for example.) Meanwhile, the places that are gray are low on all three metrics above, which means that they're both poor and uneducated. It's grim to see just how much gray there is.

[Check out the full graphic at GOOD]

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  • Colin Graham

    This type of 'infographic' highlights the inadequacy of correct presentation of data and statistics. There is, as far as I can see, no attempt to show correlation between places where people graduated high school, college and current place of residence.

    Do people in affluent areas tend to be more likely to graduate high school and college (blue areas)? Did people who graduated in low income counties move to areas where they can get higher income? Are the people making lots of money also college/high school graduates?

    And finally, smart does not equal graduating from either college or high school, as far as I am concerned. Graduation, just means you managed to get through the system, and often it doesn't guarantee you a well-paid job unless you went to the 'right' schools...

  • Andrew Langmead

    For your comment on the grey areas, you may want to consider that the map doesn't show population density. A grey area representing a county that has low education, low income, and low population wouldn't be the same as a similarly sized grey area representing low education, low income but a high population.

  • meredith ryan

    I'm personally as dark an orange (or actually 100% magenta + 100% yellow, which give you a red color) as is possible.

    And I often find myself wondering why...besides the fact that I haven't had a regular full-time job since August 2003 nor health insurance since 18 months after that. I take it personally, which does me no good.

    What does one have to do to get blue, which is a good thing here and bad everywhere else?

  • REngdahl

    It would be interesting to see this data normalized for cost of living. Would it flatten the income map?

  • jesse paquette

    I'm curious how this would look with Red/Green/Blue instead of Cyan/Magenta/Yellow.