Tag Archives: state comparisons

Public Opinion on Gun Control

Ezra Klein at Wonkblog has put together an impressive collection of statistics on guns and mass shootings, including this data on public opinion on gun control.

To begin, people seem generally less interested in owning guns.  The percent of households with guns has been steadily decreasing for decades:

But, perhaps counter-intuitively, support for gun control has waned:

We might expect a tragedy like this week’s shooting to raise the overall level of support for gun control, but it probably won’t.  Previous shootings have not had much of an impact on opinion:

Still, there is more support for some forms of gun control than others:

For what it’s worth, gun-related deaths are lower in states with stronger gun control.  Economist Richard Florida found ”substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48)”:

It’s hard to know, however, whether this is correlation or causation.  Florida did not find correlations between gun deaths and other factors that we might expect to be correlated, including dense populations, high rates of stress, high numbers of immigrants, and mental illness.

Klein thinks that now is the time to talk about the role of gun control in preventing tragedies like the one in Newtown.  He suggests we go ahead and politicize the shooting, since silencing a discussion is just another form of politicization. He writes:

If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.

I agree that now is a good time to talk about gun control. And, we should do it with as many facts as possible, no matter where they lead us.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Who Wants to Secede from the U.S.A.?

Over at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sociologist Neal Caren and a team of graduate students have worked up on image showing the locations of people signing secession petitions on the White House website in the wake of Obama’s reelection.

For context, here’s the text of one such petition, from Alaska:


As an American Veteran on behalf of the U.S. Constitution, the Republic, the Rule of Law, and equal justice for all freedom loving citizens of the United States of America hereby declare that the Federal Government allow Alaska to peacefully secede from a dysfunctional Union that is run by corrupt politicians who buy the votes of individuals who can no longer be seen as American citizens but rather, slaves to a tyrant. We who took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, now declare Washington D.C. to be the domestic enemy to the freedom and liberty of all Alaskans and indeed, 50% of the free citizens of the USA. Therefore, we declare our secession in support of the U.S. Constitution. LET MY PEOPLE GO!

Almost all states have an active petition now. Here’s the map of signers from around the country, shaded according to the proportion of each county’s residents who signed a secession petition. If you click on the image you go to the site, which allows you to hover over each county and see the counts:Neal Caren writes:

In total, we collected data on 702,092 signatures. Of these, we identified 248,936 unique combinations of names and places, suggesting that a large number of people were signing more than one petition. Approximately 90%, or 223,907, of these individuals provided valid city locations that we could locate with a U.S. county.

Using a first-name algorithm, they estimate that 62% of those signing are men.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Interactive Map of Median Income by County

The Census Bureau has created an interactive map that lets you see median household income by county. Median household income for the entire U.S. is $51,914, but of course there is enormous variety around the country. The map lets you select an amount and see which counties have medians below that level.

Three counties — Owsley and Breathitt in Kentucky and Brooks in south Texas — have median household incomes below $20,000 a year (the white spot in Louisiana is water):

So half of households in those areas are living on less than $20,000 a year.

If we go up to $30,000 a year, we see a clear pattern. The counties are particularly concentrated in the South, especially along the Mississippi River, in Appalachia, in southern Texas, a few areas of New Mexico, and several counties in South Dakota that include Native American reservations:

If we look at the $52,000 mark — right at the overall U.S. median — we see, unsurprisingly, a lot of counties on the coasts or that have at least mid-sized cities in them, though there are certainly some counties that don’t fit that pattern:

On the upper end, there are six counties where the median household income is above $100,000 — Hunterdon, in New Jersey; Howard, in Maryland; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and three Virginia counties, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Loudoun:

You can see the Census Bureau’s table of median household income in every county in the U.S. here.

Interactive Graphics of Health Habits

Mark Fischetti has posted an interactive graphic at Scientific American that lets you look at the prevalence of several behaviors or characteristics measured on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s survey on risk factors. The graphic includes data on exercise, tobacco use, heavy drinking, binge drinking, and obesity. Commenters on the post suggested it’s unnecessarily snarky about obesity; that said, it provides a quick snapshot of several behaviors demographers often use to judge general trends in health. For each topic, a graph shows the state where it is highest and lowest; you can also select up to 3 additional states to compare.

For instance, the percent of people who took part in a physical activity in the last month is highest in Oregon and lowest in Mississippi; I added my home state of Oklahoma (dark blue) and current residence of Nevada (light blue) too:

You also get a map for each topic that shows where it’s most or least common. Here’s the map for smoking:

Sconnies, you may not be surprised to know that Wisconsin leads the nation in binge drinking:

I can’t embed the graphic, so you’ll have to go to Scientific American’s post to play around and compare your own state.

Measuring Generosity: How Definitions Matter

I’m supervising senior theses this semester and so I have to be a super stickler about something that makes most students’ eyes roll back in their heads: operationalization.  Wait!  Keep reading!

The term refers to a careful definition of the variable you’re measuring and it can have dramatic influences on what you find.  Dmitriy T.C. sent in a great example.  It involves whether you include church donations in your definition of “charity.”   Friendly Atheist breaks it down.

If you include church donations, the South appears to be the most generous U.S. region:

But if you don’t, everyone looks a whole lot stingier and the Northeast comes out on top:

All you budding sociologists out there remember!  Think long and hard about how to define what you’re measuring.  It can make a huge difference in your results.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Selling Fireworks in America

During college I spent a season selling fireworks at a roadside stand in South Dakota.  As you can see on the map below, posted at Buzzfeed, South Dakota is one of the few states where you can buy serious fireworks.  We sold some pretty hard-core stuff, but I mostly liked working there because the packages were so pretty.

In any case, if you haven’t lived in any of the dark blue states, you may not have seen the roadside stands that pop up this time of year.  Some are elaborate seasonal operations, but others are rather ramshackle.  Fireworks for sale end up getting crammed into all manner of places.  Lucky for us, in 2010 photographer Bill Vaccaro drove across the country snapping shots of these retailers.  You can see them all at NPR; I borrowed just a few to reproduce here:

Merrillville, Indiana:

Gary, Indiana:

Chambersberg, Pennsylvania:

Convoy, Ohio:

Hardeeville, South Carolina:
Chattanooga, Tennessee:Many more at Bill Vaccaro’s website.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Imprisonment in Louisiana: “First in the World”

A new 8-part Times Picayune series on the prison industry in Louisiana starts off with these foreboding sentences:

Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts. First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.

One out of every 86 Louisianans is in prison.

The motivation is money.   Most prisoners in Louisiana are in for-profit prisons.  The state spends $663 million a year on imprisonment; $182 million of that goes to for-profit correctional companies or contracted local sheriffs.  Many small towns depend on the prisons to fund their law enforcement.

Burk Foster, a criminologist who’s been studying Louisiana prisons, explains:

They don’t want to see the prison system get smaller or the number of people in custody reduced, even though the crime rate is down, because the good old boys are all linked together in the punishment network, which is good for them financially and politically.

State Rep. Joseph Lopinto (R-Metairie) agrees:

The bottom line is, if locking everybody up and throwing away the key works, then we should have the lowest crime rate in the United States. We don’t. So then you have to really look at your policies. In my opinion, it’s strictly a fiscal issue.

Those who benefit from the prison industry have pushed through some of the severest sentencing laws in the country and aggressively resist reform.  ”Few lobbies in Louisiana,” writes reporter Cindy Chang, ”are as powerful as the sheriffs association.”  As a result, Louisiana’s sentencing laws are out-of-step with the rest of the country:

All life sentences are, automatically, without any chance of parole and more than one in ten Louisiana prisoners are serving life sentences (the majority of lifers were convicted before age 30):

Harsh where other states are lenient, and harsh where other states are harsh, Louisiana has “a much higher percentage behind bars for [non-violent] drug offenses.”  In 2009, 82% of the 17,223 new admissions to Louisiana prisons were convicted of non-violent felonies.

Tomorrow I’ll follow up with a post on why there are so many for-profit prisons in Louisiana and how it’s affected the lives of prisoners both during and after incarceration.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Laws Addressing Sexual Orientation, by State

Yesterday I stumbled upon a really great interactive graphic posted by the Guardian that summarizes the degree to which a number of rights and benefits are available to gays and lesbians in the U.S., by state. Each state is represented as a segment radiating out from the center of the circle; each colored ring represents a particular right, benefit, or protection:


  • Light blue = whether state has a law addressing discrimination or bullying in the school system
  • Purple = state-level hate-crime laws
  • Pink = protection against housing discrimination
  • Green = protection against employment discrimination
  • Blue = right to adopt (lighter shade indicates individuals are allowed; darker shade means gay and lesbian couples are allowed to jointly adopt)
  • Yellow = right to visit partner in the hospital
  • Red = marriage

The different shades indicate differences in the scope of coverage (say, full marriage rights vs. domestic partnership — and it has been updated to reflect yesterday’s passage of the bill outlawing same-sex marriage in North Carolina — or whether a law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity); the Guardian website explains each issue. Their post also allows you to hover over a state and get a more detailed summary. Here’s the info for Nevada, for instance:

The graphic also lets you scale states by population if you want to get a better sense of the proportion of the U.S. population living in areas that do or do not provide these protections.