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Crosswalking Up: How and Why to Avoid Using Tract Data to Measure Changes in Tracts

Authors: Jonathan Schroeder*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Urban Geography, Population Geography
Keywords: neighborhood change, census geography, spatio-temporal data
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual Track 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Studies of neighborhood change in U.S. cities often use census tracts as the units of analysis. To measure changes where tract boundaries do not align across time, a common approach is to reallocate data from older tracts to more recent tracts using relationship files, or “crosswalks,” which indicate how one year’s tracts correspond to another’s. Such reallocations can produce large errors, however. In this paper, I demonstrate that to measure tract-level changes accurately, it is important to allocate from units smaller than tracts whenever possible. New crosswalks available from IPUMS NHGIS (https://www.nhgis.org) identify correspondences among census blocks and block groups from 1990, 2000, 2010, and later years. Using these crosswalks to allocate data “up,” from the smaller blocks or block groups to larger tracts, yields considerably more accurate measures of tract-level changes.

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