Text of a novel, centered
Worthy of the Times


Nyt_unemploy_sm In an article called "Off the Charts", Floyd Norris wanted to let readers know that unemployment does not hit citizens equally -- it affects some age groups and men/women to differing degrees. 

As befits the article's title, he included several charts, from which I extracted the one shown on the right.  At first glance, this seems like a normal chart.

But when one pays attention, one notices that the chart is rather complicated.  This chart is like a piece of modern music, in which the composer allows two voices to jar and talk past one another.

Think of it as a data table vying for attention with a bar chart.  The data table is a cross-tabulation of the change in employment by age and gender.  In this view, the men sit on the left, and the women on the right.

Lurking around is a bar chart, for which the point of zero change sits in the middle.  Positive growth extends to the right, while negative growth points to the left.  The gender labels at the top are irrelevant  for this bar chart: the narrow black bars indicate women, the fat colored ones, men.  The data labels are also irrelevant: see, for example, the 45-54 age group, the label for females, at -2.3, should really be placed on the left side of the middle divide!

Here is how these two charts look, disentangled: (I have converted the bar chart to a dot chart.)




Reference: "Off the Charts: Job losses mount, enduring and deep", New York Times, Nov 14 2009.


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My inclination is to flip the axes. I think we grasp "more" vs. "less" more readily along the horizontal axis than the vertical.


Works well for this data set. But what if two numbers were really close? Say for over 55, Men was -2.1% and Women was -2.0%.

David Schmitt

Using red/blue in the dot graph might be pose a problem for those of us who are color blind. Would it be better to use the ♂ and ♀ symbols?

Mike Anderson

I like the original better than your "disentangled" version! It works!

The only improvement I would make is to change the colors of the bars, and key them by similarly coloring the headings MEN and WOMEN.


I'd do that thing that upsets everybody, and join the dots with a line. A blue line for the men and a red line for the women would do two things: first, show a pattern across the age groups that is the same general shape for women and men, and second, show that the two lines do not cross. The change in employment for women is more positive than for men in all age groups.

The "All" dots I would make into a single line cutting across the age groups like a gridline.


Like so


Derek: if I were to do a version, I'd do a profile chart too, and upset a bunch of people along the way.

David, and others: what I did here was just to disentangle. I did make one change which is to switch the bars to dots because I just cannot stand those overlapping bar charts with differing widths.

Mike: coloring the men/women labels helps a bit. I just don't like a negative number put on the positive side of the axis.

SB: if we don't print the data, and use a scale instead (as in my version), we don't have the problem of data being too close to each other

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