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.
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.