MapMaker: United States Demographics—Ethnicity

MapMaker: United States Demographics—Ethnicity

Explore the self-reported ethnicity of the United States with this map layer build from census data.


9 - 12+


Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Human Geography, Social Studies, Civics, U.S. History

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This map layer contains a large quantity of data. It may take some time to load, depending on the speed of your internet.

What are population demographics?

The population of a country are those individuals who live in it, known as residents. It also includes residents temporarily outside the country (such as those in the armed forces, diplomats, or astronauts). Each of these people have unique characteristics, such as gender, race, ethnicity, income level, and education level attained. This map explores ethnicity.

Ethnicity is often used interchangeably with race, but the two are distinct. The word race commonly refers to a person’s physical characteristics, while the word ethnicity describes their cultural identity, which may not be apparent. Both are social constructs people use to classify each other and neither has a biological foundation. All humans are members of the same species, Homo sapiens. Like other animals, humans also have different physical characteristics from other species’ members.

Sometimes, how a person identifies or is identified is used to discriminate against them. This behavior is always wrong. Learn ways you can disrupt these behaviors when you see them from groups like Right To Be, The Conscious Kid, Color of Change, or the ACLU. You can also learn more from programs like Code Switch.

The data featured in this map layer is from the United States Census Bureau from data collected in the 2010 Census. All race and ethnicity data is self-reported by the individual completing the survey and those crafting the questions do their best to write them in a way that does not encourage a person to make one selection over another. Beginning in 2000, the Census Bureau began allowing people to select more than one box in these categories creating a more nuanced picture of the U.S. population. This practice was continued in the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

Why collect population demographics?

Governments at all levels use demographic data to create or adjust policies and programs they implement. That same data can also provide those governments, or those monitoring them, with a tool to evaluate those policies and programs to ensure they are serving people equitably or monitor the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies. Additionally, just like we look at data geographically, when we sort data by factors like gender, ethnicity, race, or disability we can evaluate it to identify issues impacting one group more severely than others.

What are census tracts?

The data in this map layer has been mapped using census tracts instead of counties or states. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, census tracts are “small, relatively permanent statistical subdivisions of a county or equivalent entity that are updated by local participants prior to each decennial census.” Census tracts strive to cover the area where 4,000 people live, though they can range from approximately 1,200-8,000 people depending on population density. People living on an American Indian reservation may have census tracts different from those outside those systems. Census tracts in reservations sometimes cross boundaries, such as county lines, that other census tracts are restricted from doing.

What is predominance mapping?

This map layer has been classified using a technique called predominance mapping. This method creates a map that compares multiple variables in the data and then displays the most common or highest value. In this case, we’ve mapped self-selected ethnicity data from the U.S. Census Bureau with this technique. This displays the most commonly reported ethnicity of each census tract. Some tracts are very close between two ethnicities, these have a lighter shade than those with a clear leader.

Use this Map Layer in the Classroom

The Politics of Place-Naming: In this activity, students use MapMaker to uncover the geographic and social context of streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr.

Media Credits

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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Expert Reviewer
Anita Palmer
Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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