Centers for Disease Control - Current Contraceptive Use of Women 15-44 years old
Centers for Disease Control - Current Contraceptive Use of Women 15-44 years old

What Works

Pie charts are quick and (too?) clean, in my opinion. Their beauty lies in their ability to make data legible – everything will add up to 100%. It’s a world without outliers or oddities and it fits neatly in a perfect circle. Because of this neatness, pie charts can be visually pleasing – I’m not suggesting this one achieves beauty, but the potential is there.

In fact, I’m including this gray scale pie chart that shows the share of airport traffic into the Middle East by city as an exemplar of a beautiful pie chart. One smooth swipe of a gradient.

Share of traffic into the Middle East by city
Share of airport traffic into the Middle East by city

What Needs Work

Pie charts either result in some kind of large residual category – like this one where “other methods” is clearly some kind of residual and accounts for more users than condoms. Interesting to me, the non-users category is also a bit of a catchall. In that 38% there are all sorts of different kinds of non-users. There could have been a 9.5% wedge for women who are either pregnant or trying to get pregnant. On the one hand, this is kind of a no-brainer: of course there are women who are trying to get pregnant. But honestly, I had forgotten all about that category when looking at this graphic because its caption tells me that I am supposed to be thinking about contraceptive users.

The other thing that this presentation obscures is the gender disparity in sterilization rates. We see that 17% of the women in the 15-44 year old age bracket are using sterilization as a contraceptive method. But how many men are sterilized? As a medical procedure, it is easier for a man to have a vasectomy than for a woman to have tubal ligation. Following that logic, one might assume that men are more likely to be sterilized than women, especially because some vasectomies can be reversed. Tubal ligations cannot be reversed. To their credit, they do include a table in the appendix that shows the rates of male sterilization in 1992 (6.1%), 1995 (7%), and 2002 (5.7%). Somewhat illogically then, rates of male sterilization are far lower than rates of female sterilization. What is happening here likely has something to do with the cultural construction of masculinity – male sexual activity following sterilization is likened to “shooting blanks” whereas I can think of no similar term for women (caveat: post-menopausal women might be referred to as “dried up” but this term is not typically used to reference sterilization).

Relevant References

Dudgeon, M.R.; Inhorn M.C. (2003 January) Gender, Masculinity, and Reproduction: Anthropological Perspectives International Journal of Men’s Health Vol. 2 No. 1. Harriman, TN: Men’s Studies Press.

Mosher, W.D.; Martinez, G.M.; Chandra, A.; Abma, J.C; and Willson, S.J. (2004, December 10) Use of Contraception and Use of Family Planning Services in the United States: 1982–2002 Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics, No. 350. US Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics.