Scaling the physical size of States in the US to reflect population size (animation)

Posted In: Maps
States sized to New Jersey’s population density

Choropleth maps are a pretty useful kind of map that colors distinct areas of the map (e.g. states, counties or countries) to reflect different numerical or categorical values. It is useful to show differences across geographic regions. I’ve been making a bunch of these recently (stressed states, bitcoin electricity consumption, college admissions). One of the issues that can be problematic with these maps is that some regions can be very large but only have very few people. If the choropleth map is tracking a intensity value (like CO2 emissions per capita), a large area with a high color value might visually indicate that total emissions (emissions per capita x # of people) is also high. In the US this is reflected in states like Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, which are large but have very few people.

I decided to make a modified choropleth map (updated after learning that it’s called a cartogram) that scales the size of the states to be the proportional to the state’s population. States with larger populations show up as larger. This is equivalent to making each state have the same population density. Since New Jersey has the highest population density of any state in the US (1200 people/square mile), it stays the same size in this map and all the other states shrink, to reflect their lower population density. For example, California has a larger population than NJ (4.4x), but its physical size is about 20x larger. So California is shrunk to about 20% its original size to make its physical size 4.4x the size of NJ.

The states are also colored to show population as well (darker redder colors reflect larger population while yellow/beige reflects small populations).

States sized to California’s population density

Living in California, I decided to make another animation, this time with scaled to the density of California, so some states that are less dense will shrink, while others that are denser will grow. New Jersey grows quite a bit. Because many of the dense Northeast states grow a bit, I had to space them out (manually) so you could still see them otherwise they’d overlap too much.

Data Sources and Tools:
2015 population and population density data comes from Wikipedia and leaflet.js open source mapping library was used to create the maps. State outlines in geoJSON format come from leaflet. Javascript code was used to scale the coordinates of the geoJSON polygons to the appropriate size and animate the map.

state size scaled by population

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