4 min read

What if Indiana was part of the South?

This post is a part of my “1,001 Data Visualizations of Indiana” project. See the rest of it here.

One of my favorite articles ran in FiveThirtyEight a few years ago called “Indiana is Weird”. Through a series of graphs and tables, the author (Craig Fehrman) describes how the ancestry and migration patterns of who settled in Indiana makes us, well, pretty weird when compared to other Midwestern states.

A key differentiation between Indiana and our regional peers is our Southern roots (quote from Fehrman below).

In 1850, only 3 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from New England. (The Old Northwest average was 10 percent.) Only 20 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from Mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania and New York. (The Old Northwest average was 42 percent.) But a whopping 44 percent of Indiana’s U.S.-born residents hailed from the South — easily the highest percentage in the Old Northwest, where the average was 28 percent.

He goes on the cite a host of factors where Indiana ranks closer to “Kentucky or Tennessee” rather than “Wisconsin or Ohio”. This includes things like the share of the population who are white evangelical protestant, share who identify as conservative, median household income, share with broadband internet, and so on.

Among the places where Indiana stands out among Midwestern states is the share of adults who have completed a bachelor’s degree. In fact, Indiana (orange/brown line below) has been last in college degree attainment for at least the last fifty years.

Figure 1.1

If you can’t see it very well, here’s the same graph with every other state in gray but Indiana in red.

Figure 1.2

The Hoosier state isn’t just behind other Midwestern states in college degree attainment, we also lag behind most other states around the country.

Figure 1.3

I know that the chart above looks like the little “Mr. DNA” guy from Jurassic Park and it’s very hard to read individual values, so I tried to make Indiana stand out with an obnoxiously large font size. The point is that Indiana is near the bottom.

Things didn’t look much different for Indiana 50 years ago either. Here is that same college degree attainment ranking chart, but with the 1970 Census data.

Figure 1.4

If you zoom in and read the names behind or near Indiana in either the 1970 or 2020, you’ll notice a number of Southern states. I’m curious: what if we compared Indiana to Southern states instead of Midwestern states on metrics like college degree attainment? In other words, what if Indiana was a part of the South?

(I know that Indiana is obviously geographically part of the Midwest and fought for the Union in the Civil War, but just for the sake of the blog post stick me with here, ok?)

Here’s college degree attainment from 1970-2020 for the South (as the Census Bureau defines it) plus Indiana. Each states is represented by a gray line while Indiana is in red.

Figure 1.5

Indiana (27.2%) is quite a bit closer to the median of the Southern states (29%) on college education than the median of the Midwestern states (30.35%). This Census Bureau grouping of Southern states also includes places like Washington, D.C. (sadly, not a state), Maryland, and Delaware–all places with high college degree attainment that are technically part of the south, but function much differently now.

Here’s the list of degree attainment in our new “South+Indiana” region, which is easier to read that the line graph above.

##    year             variable value
## 1  2020 District of Columbia  59.8
## 2  2020             Maryland  40.9
## 3  2020             Virginia  39.5
## 4  2020             Delaware  32.7
## 5  2020              Georgia  32.2
## 6  2020       North Carolina  32.0
## 7  2020                Texas  30.7
## 8  2020              Florida  30.5
## 9  2020       South Carolina  29.0
## 10 2020              Indiana  27.2
## 11 2020              Alabama  26.2
## 12 2020             Oklahoma  26.1
## 13 2020             Kentucky  25.0
## 14 2020            Louisiana  24.9
## 15 2020             Arkansas  23.8
## 16 2020          Mississippi  22.8
## 17 2020        West Virginia  21.3

I’d be willing to bet that if I repeated this exercise for other factors beyond education, Indiana might fit better in the South than the Midwest. Maybe I will do that in subsequent posts and turn this into a series?

Regardless, let this serve as another data point bolstering the “Indiana is the middle finger of the South” take that resurfaces online from time to time.


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