Case Study: Rural and Urban America-
How Alike and How Different Are We?

NOTE: This chapter was retired from the EET collection after CIESIN's US-Mexico Demographic Data Viewer became unavailable. The pages are available here for reference.

Suppose two new students joined your class today. Each one moved to your area from other regions in the country. One student came from Kings County in New York City and the other came from Hidalgo County in southern New Mexico. While both students are from the United States, they tell very different stories about where they lived and the people who lived around them. The students might make you curious about what life is like where they came from. You might ask these new students, "How many people lived nearby you? Are the people that live in that area young or old? What level of income do the people in that area have?" In this chapter, you'll create maps from population data then analyze the maps to answer questions like these.

Maps give us an opportunity to locate places and visually represent them. Mapping population data allows us to visualize almost any characteristic about people that has been observed and recorded, and to compare how that characteristic changes from one place to another. By analyzing maps of population data, we can investigate similarities and differences in the lifestyles, cultures, and needs of people living in different areas. For example, public health officials might plan for the distribution of vaccines by analyzing maps with population data. Similarly, geographical analysis of population data can help decision makers plan for the use of resources, such as water, land, and energy, and help when planning to manage risks associated with natural disasters and hazards. Analyzing data across various scientific disciplines can help to improve our understanding of the interactions that humans have with the environment and to improve life for those living within the regions being examined.

The data for displaying maps have been collected by referencing the region, state, and county or municipio boundaries that have been measured geographically for both the contiguous United States and Mexico. The data that describe population characteristics have been collected by asking people to answer questions about the individuals living within each household. The population data have been matched with the map data to provide an opportunity to visually examine and compare characteristics of the populations that live within the various regions located in the contiguous United States and Mexico.

In this chapter, you'll learn about geographic regions, their locations, and the populations within the regions. You will describe and compare various characteristics of populations in urban and rural locations, and compare characteristics of your own location to the examples of New York City and southern New Mexico.

Keep the following questions in mind as you progress through the chapter:

  • How would living in New York City be similar to living in southern New Mexico? How would life in one of these places be different from the other place?
  • How do urban and rural populations compare across regions, states, and counties in the US?