Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"Simulated Dendrochronology of U.S. Immigration 1790-2016"

The blog Information is Beautiful has just now shared the results of the 2018 iteration of the Information is Beautiful Awards, a celebration of "the world's world’s best data-visualisations and infographics." Many of these data-visualizations and infographics deal with demographics, in one way or another. The winner, the video "Simulated Dendrochronology of U.S. Immigration 1790-2016" assembled by Pedro M. Cruz and team together with Northeastern University and National Geographic, does a remarkable job of showing trends in American immigration over nearly two centuries.

The project's website explains what the video shows and how it shows it.

Nature has its own ways of [organizing] information: organisms grow and register information from the environment. This is particularly notable in trees, which, through their rings, tell the story of their growth. Drawing on this phenomenon as a visual metaphor, the United States can be envisioned as a tree, with shapes and growing patterns influenced by immigration. The nation, the tree, is hundreds of years old, and its cells are made out of immigrants. As time passes, the cells are deposited in decennial rings that capture waves of immigration.

Cells grow more in specific directions depending on the geographic origin of the immigrants. Rings that are more skewed toward the country’s East, for example, show more immigration from Europe, while rings skewed South show more immigration from Latin America.

A cell represents a specific number of immigrants who arrived in a given decade. A computational algorithm deposits those cells in such a way that simulates the appearance of tree rings. This physics-based system generates a data visualization that is based on millions of data points. The data was queried from IPUMS-USA and consists of millions of samples of questionnaires from U.S. Censuses.

The historical formation process of this tree can be observed in an animated way. Here, the granularity of the dataset is unveiled as hundreds of points of origin are laid out.

The U.S. and its population growth can also be envisioned as a forest of trees. Tree sections, one for each state in the U.S., show the growth profile due to incoming immigration, but also due to newborns (here referred to as natural-borns).

Each state has grown at different rates, with varying immigration profiles. Some are larger, some are smaller, and some have complex shapes that portray their immigration profile. Tree rings that are nearly circular indicate that population growth due to immigration was much less significant than that due to natural-born persons.


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