How to Read & Analyze Geography Statistics

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Numbers aren't just for mathematicians - learn how you can interpret statistics about the people who live in a place (human characteristics) or the physical features of that place (physical characteristics).

Statistics in Geography

Did you know that you can use statistics in geography? Most people think geography is just about maps and places, but there are all kinds of ways to use statistics to study those places. For example, you can use statistical information about the geographical features of different parts of the world to group areas into climate zones. You can also look at statistics about the people who live in a certain area, like life expectancy, total population, or average age.

In this lesson, you'll learn about interpreting statistics in geography - how to understand statistical information about people and places, and what traps to avoid.

Statistics About People

Sometimes, geographers use statistics to understand the human characteristics of a place, information about the people who live there. For example, let's look at the European Union.

Let's just take some very basic information about the people who live in the European Union. Like, say, how many of them there are. As it turns out, if you look at the EU-28, there are an estimated 510 million people, and the population is growing - 510 million people is 1.8 million people more than last year. We can use information about that population to help understand what Europe is like. In geography, statistics are often shown on a map, so here's a map of where all those people in the EU live:

Population of Europe
Map of European population

You can see that they're not evenly distributed. In this map, the countries are distorted to show their relative population size, and colored to show how many people live per square kilometer. If you look up at the top, you can see that the Scandinavian countries are really tiny and squished up, because only a few people live there. Meanwhile, Germany is enormous and colored in pink, because lots of people live there.

This map is an example of how you can show statistics about human characteristics on a map. It's an example of combining statistics and geography into a single image. It's not absolutely geographically accurate, but you can still tell which countries are which, and the map sacrifices geographical perfection to add statistical information.

Statistics can be really useful, but it's important to look closely at them and not make assumptions. For example, if the population of the EU is increasing, you'd expect to see more babies being born than old people dying, right?

Except that's not what's happening. In 2015, for the first time, the number of deaths was greater than the number of births. The population increased because of immigration, or people moving from other places to the EU. This tells you something about how people live in Europe: most people don't have a lot of children, but there are a lot of immigrants arriving from other countries. It also tells you something about interpreting geographical statistics: make sure you don't assume you know what they mean. You might be wrong!

Statistics About Physical Places

Geographers can also use numbers and statistics to understand the physical characteristics of places, like climate and landscape features. This helps in grouping them into categories based on similarities. For example, if you have two places that are both very hot, statistics about the average rainfall in each place can help you categorize one as a rainforest and one as a desert.

As an example, let's look at the EU again, but we'll look at average number of days with precipitation in major cities in Europe. Precipitation means either rain or snow, depending on how cold it is.

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