Why I made Race and Ethnicity Population Pyramids

A personal story, looking into my diverse origin

Population Pyramid of the US by Sex, Age, and Race

Population pyramids may be quite informative, even though they can be quite dull. According to Wikipedia they may also be called age-sex pyramids. They are basically horizontal bar graphs grouped by age, where the x-axis represents the population size. One side for males the other for females. Colors may vary, but they tend to stay in the red and blue range. Fortunately for us, demographers and data scientists are coming up with a new set of pyramids to inform about population changes.

Randy Olson ventured into Rethinking the Population Pyramid. But this is not the only attempt. There are static versions like Mike Bostock’s new population pyramid. In this pyramid, males and females are partially transparent, allowing better comparison between sexes. Max Roser, created a world population pyramid, where you can simultaneously see various decades in one single merged pyramid. There are also animated ones. They may show you population changes in just a few seconds. Among these, Jorge Camoes created a population pyramid race, that highlights different ages. It is amazing to see how new attempts may make it interesting all over again. The population pyramids I created, have a bit more of a personal history behind them.

I was brought up in Colombia. In primary school, I was taught we were all partly Indigenous. Later I learned that early Colombians were a set of races and mixtures. Spanish, Mestizo, Indian, Mulatto, Black, and Zambo (See image left). That was interesting. I identified myself with Mestizo. I did not look hard into my relatives. I am more of a Zambo mixed with Spanish. Not exactly certain in which proportions, and not really sure how to call that mixture! I put those thoughts aside until I worked closely to Native Colombians. They have been the most alien, foreign people, I have ever encountered. I did not understand them or relate to them. 500 years of colonization have not made us closer.

As I progressed professionally, I moved to the US as a researcher. There, I encountered the US census questions. What was I? I am Hispanic, but am I white? (are white Spanish not white?) Biracial? (I have other races in me, but not just two). I believe I went for other. Trying to include everything. I did not want to lie. I wanted to be accurate. To make things worse. I got two census cards, and then I got a call from the Census Bureau. I informed the follow ups I had answered already. I think my answers deviated a bit each time. In that respect I have a confused identity as much as many other Latin Americans.

The news about inequality, education, and violence always made me think, where I belonged. What I deserved and where I was supposed to be. I was a graduate student, working in a lab. But statistics said I was more likely to be doing something else. Am I an outlier? I did not see myself like that.

Years later, I found myself doing a doctoral degree in England. I was filling NHS (National Health Service) papers. Here we go again. What are you? Not exactly. Where do you think you belong? I guess this is more appropriate but equally baffling. This options clearly resemble England’s past colonial territories. I would have said Caribbean. Caribbean as the Native American ethnicity, that also populated the north of Colombia; where I come from. But I am not British… and more mulatto than black. I think I went for other mixed background. I was also surprised to see that English, is differentiated from Irish, and other white background. There, I just see white. In that respect I stick to the American point of view.

A year into my life as a PhD student in England, I got a DNA Ancestry Kit as a Christmas gift. This was going to help me. I could answer these questions in full detail, with percentages! No big surprises in the results. I always knew what I was. The product of colonization, and migration. But the best part was that my ethnic profile, closely resembled the ethnic composition of Colombia!

It is 2016. As I follow the news from overseas, I see how divided is the US with the presidential elections. Race and ethnicity are among the main topics discussed. I also follow the news about how America is a minority majority country. It is important to keep track of race, to see how it affects jobs, education, incarceration, health etc… But, is this information helping or is it hindering? I hope all this data has a point. I cannot offer much help there. So much news about race and ethnicity. Lots of data out there, but I don’t find a single graph that can grasp all of it. I need to see these changes. I need to visualize them.

I decide I need to make a population pyramid. One that includes race and ethnicity. I realize I can modify the horizontal bars for horizontal stacked bars. I located the code on blockbuilder. I modified it to show what I need. At first, I wanted the historical data. It is not out there as I want it. It must include age, sex, race, and ethnicity for each year. There is always something missing. The Census Bureau has the projected data from 2016 to 2060. That is it! But I cannot mix race and ethnicity in one pyramid. It is too much information. I decide to make two pyramids.

The data on race is a bit confusing. There is race, and race combined. I guess I am not the only one that sees a plural origin. I used the first set for a race pyramid. The Race Population Pyramid is animated. It shows how the population changes. But it is not so drastic. Not how I thought it would change. The Ethnicity Pyramid is different. Less packed. There are more visible changes. Hispanics are definitely growing. Take a look. Make your own decision.

Population Pyramid of the US by Ethnicity

Interested in Data Visualizations