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Cartograms - Images of the social and economic world

Home > Resources > Cartograms - Images of the social and economic world

Images of the social and economic world


Here is an ordinary map of the world:


Click on image for a larger version

Roughly speaking, on a map like this, the sizes of the countries of the world are in proportion to their actual sizes on the surface of the planet and their shapes are the same as their actual shapes. (This is only approximate though, since some distortion is inevitable when you go from a spherical planet to a flat map.)

It's possible, however, and sometimes very useful, to redraw the map with the sizes of countries made bigger or smaller in order to represent something of interest. Such maps are called cartograms and can be an effective and natural way of portraying geographic or social data.

Here, for example, is a cartogram that shows the human population of the countries of the world:



Click on image for a larger version

In this map the sizes of countries are proportional not to their actual landmass but instead to the number of people living there; a country with 20 million people, for instance, appears twice as large as a country with 10 million.

Although the figures for populations of countries are well established and familiar to many, the cartogram provides a new way of looking at them and in particular makes clear the enormous disparity in the population of different regions. Note how large India and China have become: between them these two countries account for more than a third of the population of the world. On the other hand, notice the near-disappearance of Canada and Russia, the world's two largest countries by land area, which have relatively few people in them.

Notice also how the lines of latitude and longitude have become distorted by the growing and shrinking countries. This is an unavoidable consequence of the cartogram transformation: in order to give the countries the right sizes and still have them fit together you need to warp things a bit. The method used here, however, does a pretty good job of keeping the map recognizable.

Cartograms are most often used to show population data, but there is no reason why they need be limited to population. They can in principle be used to show almost any quantity. Here is a cartogram of the world in which the sizes of countries are proportional to Gross Domestic Product, which is a measure of how much wealth a country's economy generates, and hence, to an extent, of the wealth of the country's inhabitants:


Gross domestic product

Click on image for a larger version

Notice how America and Europe dominate this map, along with Japan (yes – that huge dark-green island on the right really is Japan), while Africa dwindles almost to invisiblity.

Now here are a few more cartograms. In all of the maps on this page the countries have the same colors, which helps to identify countries in the cases where shapes have changed a lot.


Child mortality

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People living with HIV/AIDS

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Total spending on healthcare

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Energy consumption (including oil)

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Greenhouse gas emissions

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Technical details:
These cartograms were created using a variant of the diffusion algorithm of Gastner and Newman. Data for the population cartogram were taken from the Gridded Population of the World compiled by the International Center for Earth Science at Columbia University; elevation and bathymetric data were taken from the NOAA 2-minute Gridded Global Relief data set. Data for the other cartograms came from the United Nations Statistics Division and from the databases of the World Health Organization. In all of the cartograms on this page, Antarctica has been treated the same as the sea, meaning its area is unchanged although its shape may be distorted slightly to make room for changes in the sizes of other parts of the world.


link to original page
� 2006 M. E. J. Newman - Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan
Email: [email protected] - Updated: February 16, 2006



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