Katrin brought our attention to a report from the Brookings Institution about the educational levels of immigrants to the U.S., based on data from the 2009 American Community Survey as well as Census data between 1900 and 2000. As a group, immigrants have significantly more education than common stereotypes might lead you to believe. In fact, there are now more immigrants with at least a 4-year college degree than with less than a high-school diploma (27.8%):

Overall, immigrants still have lower levels of education than native-born U.S. citizens. While the proportion with a college degree is comparable (32% of the native-born and 29.6% of immigrants have a 4-year degree or higher), the immigrant population is much more likely to have less than a high school diploma (27.8% vs. 7% for the native-born).

The proportion of immigrants falling into the high- or low-education categories varies significantly by destination city. The study authors calculated the ratio of high-skill to low-skill immigrants  (where skill is defined as education level, as in the graph above) for the 100 largest metro areas. High-skill destinations have more than 125 college-educated immigrants per 100 immigrants with less than a high school diploma; low-skill cities have fewer than 75. A city was defined as “balanced” if there were between 75 and 125 high-skill immigrants per 100 low-skill immigrants.

A map of the ratios shows that of the 100 largest metro areas, those in the eastern half of the U.S. (especially the Northeast) attract more educated immigrants, while the Great Plains and West (especially California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) have lower-educated immigrant population. Balanced-skills cities are concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast:

Not surprisingly, cities with universities attract more  highly-educated immigrants, while those with economies based on agriculture or food processing are more likely to be destination sites for immigrants with less education.

Here’s a video of one of the authors, Audrey Singer, discussing the study and its implications:

You can also see the detailed information about the 100 largest metro areas. In the areas studied here, immigrants with less than a high school diploma are disproportionately from Mexico (57.3%, but with wide geographic variation — Mexican immigrants make up only 6.2% of low-skill immigrants in Buffalo but 85.8% in Austin), lack English skills (only 16.4% are proficient), and are unlikely to be naturalized citizens (26.2%). Among immigrants with a college degree, 5.5% are Mexican, 71.5% are English-proficient, and 54% are naturalized citizens. The full report has a detailed discussion of the factors at play here–historical immigrant settlement patterns, changes in which cities are gateways for arriving immigrants, and so on. If you’re interested in immigration issues and how they impact economic development, it’s definitely worth a read.

Cross-posted at Family Inequality.

It’s been a big week for stories of families denied and disrupted by the state.  Family denial came up in the form of bodily intervention (as in North Carolina’s eugenics program), border control (as when Jose Antonio Vargas‘s mother put him on a one-way plane for the U.S.), parents’ incarceration, or legal denial of family rights (the refusal to recognize gay marriage, or what I suggest we call homogamous marriage).

(1)  North Carolina’s eugenics program was the subject of hearings this week, dragging on with no compensation for the 7,600 people who were involuntarily sterilized between 1929 and 1977. A collection of literature at the State Library of North Carolina includes this 1950 propaganda pamphlet:

(2) Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, recounted his life as an undocumented immigrant. His mother put him on a plane for the U.S. with false papers, maybe never to see him again.

(3) While a judge declared the federal law against recognizing gay marriage unconstitutional, the New York legislature maybe moved toward legal recognition, and President Obama’s support of gay marriage apparently stalled.

(4) The 40th anniversary of the drug war was a bleak reminder of the millions of U.S. families separated by incarceration during that time.

The text says, “more women and mothers are behind bars than at any time in U.S. history,” from (

(My graph from data in an article by Wildeman and Western in The Future of Children)

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.

I invite you to spend seven minutes listening to Baratunde Thurston explaining what, exactly, is wrong with the fact that Barack Obama was hounded into releasing his long form birth certificate.  He does a wonderful job of historicizing the requirement that Obama prove that he is an American (to a man such as Donald Trump), at the same time that he explains why this questioning of Obama’s citizenship is deeply hurtful to all Black Americans and their allies.

Via BoingBoing.  Transcript after the jump (via Racialicious).


Elyse Mc.D. sent in this graphic based on data from the Stanford Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality that summarizes a number of aspects of inequality.

You can get a larger version here. I took screencaps of three of the figures I found most striking:


Jessica L., a doctoral candidate in sociology at Kent State and traveling adjunct instructor at Lewis University and Indiana University Northwest, let us know that the New York Times has an interesting interactive map that uses Census data from 1880 to 2000 to show where various immigrant groups have settled. You can select area of origin (some specific, such as China, others very broad, such as “All Africa”) and see where individuals from that area were living in the U.S. for different years (because of changes in Census categories and data gathering, information isn’t available for all groups for all years).

The German-born population in 1880:

If you go to the NYT site, you can roll over the circles to get the specific population.

The Japanese-born population in 1900, indicating immigration to Hawaii and, to a lesser extent, California and Washington to work in agriculture:

The map also lets you trace the rise and fall of some immigration streams. For instance, in 1880 there were 198,595 people born in Ireland living just in Manhattan alone:

By 2000, the Irish-born population in the U.S. was tiny, and only 4,147 of them lived in Manhattan:

The Mexican-born population in 2000:

Sara P. let us know about a map at National Geographic that shows the distribution of surnames in the U.S.

The names are color coded by region of origin of the name:

A note on methodology: geographers looked at the most common by counting the most common last names in phone books and selecting the most common names in each state. This hides significant diversity in names in large cities that may have had a greater mix of immigrant groups that the state overall; for instance, a map of the most common names just in New York City might look quite a bit different than the most common names in New York state.

Nonetheless, the concentration of last names serves as an echo of immigration and settlement patterns. British-origin names tend to dominate across the U.S., unsurprisingly, particularly Smith, Johnson, and Williams. Because slaves were often given the last names of their owners, a significant proportion of individuals with British last names are African American — for instance, African Americans are about 20% of people named Smith.

Several Irish-origin names stand out in Massachusetts, as well as some French surnames in Maine:

The map of Hawaii reflects the significance of the Asian population there:

Spanish-origin names in the Southwest:

The names common in the Great Lakes/upper plains region reflects the fact that the area was a common destination for immigrations from Germany and Scandinavia:

I looked up the geographers who created the maps (James Cheshire, Paul Longley, and Pablo Mateos at University College London) and that led me to an interesting website sponsored by UCL, the World Names Project. If you type in a surname, it will show where on the globe it is most common. You can also zoom in on individual nations and see the distribution within them. Here’s the global distribution of my last name, Sharp:

You also get some data about the name: its origin, the top 10 regions and individual cities for that name, and the most common first names that go with it (which, in all the names I tried, were overwhelmingly male, so I don’t know what to make of that).

As Sara said of the National Geographic map, many of the results are predictable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to look at them.

UPDATE: Reader Kristina provides an explanation for why male names dominate the most common first names lists:

My explanation for Gwen’s finding that the most common first names are overly represented by male names is that names for boys are less variable than names for girls.

Interesting post on that here, which notes, “it [natural language geocoder] needs 4200 first names for girls to cover 90% of the population, but it only needs 1200 boy’s names to reach a 90% coverage. The reason for this huge difference is mainly found in the top positions. The ten most popular male names reach 23% whereas the ten most popular female names reach a comparatively meager 10%.”

Benedict Anderson coined the phrase “imagined communities” to point to the way that humans believe they are meaningfully connected, by virtue of some commonality, to people they will never know, and may have very little in common with.  He applied the idea to the nation.  Why do all of the citizens of China, for example, have in common with other citizens of China?  In some cases little, other than their citizenship.  Yet, the fact that “we are all Chinese” can motivate many people to do and feel things.

In an RSA video featuring Jeremy Rifkin, sent in by Dmitriy T.M., it is argued that the human ability to imagine a community is a neurological capacity for empathy that has evolved, both neurologically and socially, throughout human existence.  First, he argues, we identified with close relatives, then with our religious community, and later with our nation-state.  Our future, then, he argues, is dependent on our ability to imagine the whole world as a community.  New technologies may very well enable this and Rifkin has his fingers crossed.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Emory University has a very detailed database about the Atlantic slave trade, titled Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which I don’t believe we’ve posted before (my apologies if we have). It includes nine maps providing information on major points of departure and destination ports for the trans-Atlantic trade; here’s a general overview:

Initially the vast majority of slave voyages were organized by firms or individuals in Spain and Portugal; however, over time the slave trade was dominated by groups from northern Europe. Great Britain eventually played a major role, and over 1/3 of documented slave voyages were organized there.The description of Map 6 explains, “vessels from the largest seven ports, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Liverpool, London, Nantes, Bristol, and Pernambuco carried off almost three-quarters of all captives removed from Africa via the Atlantic Ocean.”

This map shows where voyages were organized, and the % of all documented African slaves that voyages from that country/area transported:

In the U.S., students generally learn about slavery in relation to cotton plantations and, to a lesser extent, tobacco. However, overall those two crops played a relatively minor role in the growth of the global slave trade. It was the growing taste for sugar, and the creation of sugar plantations, particularly in the Caribbean and South American coastal areas, that produced such an enormous demand for African slaves in the Americas. According to the Voyages website, less than 4% of all Africans captured were sold in North America.

The website also has a database of thousands of documented trips in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, including everything from point of origin, destination, number of slaves, % who died during voyage, length of trip, and so on. Some include many more details than others, as you’d expect. You can also create tables to display the variables you’re interested in. Here’s the table showing the slave trade, broken into 25-year intervals and by destination. We can clearly see that the slave trade made one big jump in the late 1500s (going from 4,287 in the 1551-1575 interval to 73,865 between 1576 and the end of the century) and another huge jump in the late 1600s, with the height of the slave trade occuring in the 1700s through the mid-1800s:

You can also create various graphs and charts. Here is a graph of the % of slaves who died during the trip, by year:

I presume the extremely high numbers in the 1550s must be skewed by some ships that sank or met some other disaster that led to the death of everyone aboard.

Over time, ships carried larger numbers of individuals per trip:

The individuals taken as part of the slave trade were predominantly male:

Documented types of resistance from captives or from Africans trying to free them:

You can spend quite a bit of time on this, I warn you — creating timelines, graphs, and so on. It’s taken me an hour to write this post because I keep getting distracted creating charts and tables. Overall, the site is a fantastic resource for both specific information and for helping illuminate the enormity of the Atlantic slave trade. Thanks to Shamus Khan for the tip.