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Social Explorer Case Study: Young Adults, Then and Now



Until 2005, Census data was largely limited to releases every 10 years. There was a short form that all U.S. households were required to complete, with about seven questions dealing with age, gender, race, ethnicity, tenure (homeownership), and household relationships. About 1 in 6 households were mailed a long form, with roughly 50 questions detailing education, income, employment, immigration, disability status, veteran experience and other questions. 

The Census Bureau began the American Community Survey in 2005, an annual questionnaire that covered most questions from the long form. Data was first released in 2006. The Census Bureau, however, wanted to allow users to compare characteristics of the young adult population in the U.S. from 1980 with results from the American Community Survey, as well as the 2010 Census.


Social Explorer helped distribute data that made it possible to track change for specific variables – such as education, employment, race, ethnicity, and housing costs – across multiple decennial Census and American Community Survey datasets. Social Explorer also created datasets that could track changes at Census tract, place, county, and metro levels.

Social Explorer created a special data visualization – Young Adults Then and Now – using data from the 1980 Census and a current American Community Survey. The visualization made it possible to examine the situation of young adults in any metro area in the United States and see how their status had changed since 1980.

The success of the young adult effort led to a series of other projects, including the change in the number of Americans who bicycled to work; the rise of online vs. brick-and-mortar retail establishments; and racial and ethnic change at a county level.


The Social Explorer efforts with the Young Adults Than and Now project allowed more than 55,000 users to create 2.2 million maps. The project, which is still available online, was honored with a Webby award in 2015 for best government website. It also garnered significant media attention; for example, it was used to illustrate a New York Times column on the financial difficulties of the millennial generation.

If you are interested in discovering the full data mapping and reporting capabilities of Social Explorer, feel free to request a quick demo or sign up for a free trial today.

Author: Frank Bass

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