Boston, MA– Researchers at MIT have created a data visualization dubbed the ‘Atlas of Inequality’ that shows which spots in the Boston area are the most and least diverse in terms of people’s income. For example, one coffee shop may have a range of customers across income brackets, while another coffee shop just a block or two away may be much more segregated, attracting only those in the lower income brackets.
That Boston neighborhoods are segregated by income is not news to anyone, as Boston has added more and more high-end housing that prices out those with lower incomes. MIT’s research on income inequality shows that economic segregation is much broader than just our neighborhoods, affecting the places we choose to go to and the people we meet on a daily basis.
WBUR explains that the map draws on anonymous user data to track people’s movements and estimate their incomes. The location data came from 150,000 anonymous smartphones or tablets participating in Cuebiq’s Data for Good initiative. Then, to estimate the approximate income of each person, the researchers took the census block where a user spent the night (assuming that this was their home), and attached the median household income for that area to the user. Each user was sorted into one of four income brackets.
The researchers point out some flaws in their study. For one, income inequality is a not a precise stand-in for wealth inequality, since many wealthy people do not actual have an annual income. Another potential for error is that homeless persons were excluded from the study, as one requirement for users to be included in the analysis was that they needed to have maintained a consistent home location for six months.
The Atlas of Inequality research team aims to better understand our social behavior in urban settings, with a focus on how socioeconomic factors shape our opportunities and choices. Principal investigator Esteban Moro of the MIT Media Lab and associate professor at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid says that with this data, they hope to “act and intervene in human behavior,” according to CityLab.
Image via MIT Media Labs