Data shows San Francisco is full of nerds

degreedensity_cities.jpg According to data from the US Census Bureau, San Francisco has more people with bachelors' or graduate degrees per square mile than any other city.

Link [via @waterslicer]


  1. The difference between Pittsburgh and other nearby cities, quantified! Suck it, Cleveland.

    1. Ahh, but expanding on my earlier comment, considering population density, Columbus is ahead of Pittsburgh on a per capita basis. Cleveland, though, still sucks. That’s something we can both agree on.

      [just kidding, people from Cleveland. Please don’t stab me.]

  2. I guess this is kind of useful but it seems like more a comment on population density than anything else…

    Personally I think percentage of individuals within a given city’s limits that have college degrees would be more interesting (and better indicate nerd density).

  3. Wouldn’t per capita be a more meaningful measure? Otherwise you’re multiplying degrees per person by people per square mile, so you’re showing how densely built a city is as much as you are how educated.

    1. From the linked blog:
      “There are college grads that live in all of the cities in my analysis and there are high school dropouts in every one of those cities as well. What a city like San Francisco has that a city like Oklahoma City does not have is a lot of degree holders living in close proximity to each other. The reason this matters is because many economists and urban theorists now subscribe to the belief that ‘human capital’ drives economic growth, and that collaboration among entrepreneurial people is valuable. That doesn’t mean a city with low degree density is ‘dumb’ – it means that it isn’t well positioned to take advantage of economic growth that stems from human capital.”

  4. They also probably have the highest number of high school dropouts per square mile, strictly based on their population density compared to, let’s say, Austin Texas. They should have just called this chart “Cities in order of population density”

  5. Is this supposed to look any different than a graph listing cities by population density? In other words, without comparing the density of graduates to the baseline population density, this graph doesn’t really tell us much.

  6. Someone divide this by population density so this information actually matters. I’m too lazy/busy (the confluence of the two is terrible).

  7. Interestingly, San Francisco also has only 63% of the population density of New York, so the per-capita rate is much higher.

    Now, my town seems miserable on the chart (Columbus) but the population density is a lot lower. (only 20% of San Francisco’s, for example.) The per capita rate of degrees still isn’t as high, though.

  8. I believe I’ve read that Stamford, CT has the highest percentage of college graduates and it doesn’t even appear on this list. Density issue, or maybe limited data.

  9. This graph tells its own story just fine!

    SF is no surprise, it is a tiny little city.

    NYC is the real story here, it is far larger in size than San Fran or Boston.

    No telling if these are strictly city limits of if they include surrounding ‘burbs.

    In Boston’s case this is significant because Cambridge + Somerville + Brookline is almost as big as Boston.

  10. Indeed, this would be more interesting if correlated to both population density (to see if the average degrees per person changes) and per capita income (to see if folks in those cities are making money, it if they just have a really expensive piece of paper on the wall)

  11. Though I’m happy to see Providence on the list, this info is not going to help me build a successful raid team.

  12. Yea when I see a Wharton Business graduate I think nerd… All I see when I see this graph is an over abundance of privileged white people who shop at Whole Foods

  13. Data shows San Francisco is full of nerds

    Do they count as nerds if their degrees are in art or fashion design?

    1. Artists and fashion designers can be nerds! I’m surprised that you’d think otherwise. Stereotype much?

    2. Do they count as nerds if their degrees are in art or fashion design?

      As a San Franciscan with an art degree (two, actually) I am wounded by the implication that I don’t deserve nerd status.

  14. Per capita numbers are here.
    As expected, SF is even further in front of any other large city, although Davis, CA tops the league with graduates making up 70.3% of the over 25 population.

    BTW, if someone can tell me how to sort by columns on the Census Bureau site without having to export the data first, I would be grateful.

  15. …and just like everyone else not from Cincinnati, they misspelled ‘Cincinnati’ (three N’s, one T folks).

  16. Taking into account population density, Boston ranks higher than New York.

    However, Cambridge MA, where I live, blows these all away. According to, Cambridge has 9,641 Bachelor degrees or more / sq mi. And if you want to “take into account population density,” which is just another way of saying degrees per total population, 65% of people have degrees, compared with 45% SF, 35% Boston and 27% NY.

    Go Cambridge, Actual Nerdiest City USA!

  17. Someone already normalized this on Slashdot a little while ago (go nerds!):

    “So, high density urban areas have a higher density of $EDUCATIONAL_ATTAINMENT. Well, blow me down. I’d bet that if you looked at the density per square mile of the people that don’t have an eighth grade education, the chart would be virtually the same.

    Seems to me that degrees per capita would be a much more useful metric.

    Rank City % Above Expected Concentration
    1 Oklahoma City 544%
    2 Nashville 167%
    3 Jacksonville 156%
    4 Salt Lake City 87%
    5 Kansas City 84%
    6 Seattle 78%
    7 Raleigh 73%
    8 San Francisco 61%
    9 New Orleans 54%
    10 Atlanta 50%
    11 Austin 48%
    12 Virginia Beach 46%
    13 Washington 45%
    14 Charlotte 43%
    15 Louisville 42%
    16 Portland 35%
    17 Birmingham 32%
    18 San Diego 31%
    19 Minneapolis 30%
    20 Orlando 28%
    21 Denver 27%
    22 Boston 22%
    23 St. Paul 13%
    24 Indianapolis 11%
    25 Richmond 9%
    26 Tampa 9%
    27 San Jose 8%
    28 Pittsburgh 6%
    29 Oakland 6%
    30 Columbus 5%
    31 Cincinnatti -3%
    32 New York City -10%
    33 Sacramento -11%
    34 Houston -11%
    35 Memphis -12%
    36 Dallas -12%
    37 Chicago -15%
    38 Los Angeles -17%
    39 Phoenix -23%
    40 Providence -23%
    41 San Antonio -25%
    42 St. Louis -25%
    43 Balitmore -30%
    44 Miami -32%
    45 Las Vegas -34%
    46 Riverside -37%
    47 Buffalo -38%
    48 Philadelphia -41%
    49 Milwaukee -43%
    50 Cleveland -61%
    51 Hartford -62%
    52 Detroit -68%”

    1. What exactly is that list based on? What does it mean that the data is “normalized?” It’s not just dividing it by the population density. That would give you degrees per capita, and Oklahoma City, ranked #1 on that list, only has 24.0% bachelor+ degrees per capita, which is quite low compared to the cities at the top of the first list.

      So what does that list mean, besides the fact that some random person on Slashdot made it?

    2. @pitir: actually, the same guy who posted that list agrees, three comments down in the link that you posted, that it’s nonsense.

      @daen and everyone else calculating “degrees per person”: all you people dividing “degrees per sq mile” by “population per sq mile” to get degrees per person are actually just doing the inverse of what the guy originally did to get those first numbers: to really get “degrees per person” (or, more accurately, percentage of people with degrees, which is what we’re really talking about here), just go to the original source:

      (Where, btw, you can find out that Cambridge has 65% of population with bachelor+ degrees, and over just 7 square miles. Just saying. Again.)

  18. Per Wikipedia:

    The population density of San Francisco is 16,443/mi2. For Columbus, OH (my home town, too), it’s 3,384/mi2, a difference of 4.8X.

    Degrees per mi2 for Columbus is 750. For SF it’s 7,031. A difference of 9.3X. So (unless I’m not doing my math right), there are about twice as many degrees per people per square mile in SF as in Columbus.

    All of this is moot, of course, if we don’t know the average number of degrees per person. If folks in SF have more multiple degrees, it throws the whole thing off.

    Or if one person in Columbus had 7,000 degrees. That would funk things up, too.

  19. When I worked at UCSF, one the residents pointed out to me that many of them, despite being at the top of their profession, would take lower paying jobs just to be able to stay in SF, because the quality of life was so much higher. MDs who were making $150K were getting offers for $300K to move to the middle of nowhere. And they were turning them down.

  20. Well, I’m a wee bit behind, but here’s the top ten, quickly adjusted for population density from Wikipedia. SF, Providence, Philadelphia and Miami stay where they were, Boston and Washington swap, and the other four do a little jig, with NY notably falling to 6th, although this could be a flaw with the NY pop density value …

    	Original rank	Degrees/sq mile	Population/sq mile	Degrees/population
    SF	1	7031	16634.4	0.422678305
    Seattle	5	2853	7136	0.399803812
    Washington	4	3395	9316.4	0.364411146
    Boston	3	3871	12165.8	0.318187049
    Minneapolis	7	1997	6722	0.297084201
    NY	2	6357	23887.2	0.266125791
    Chicago	6	2543	12750.3	0.199446288
    Providence	8	1711	9401.7	0.181988364
    Philadelphia	9	1664	11233.6	0.148127047
    Miami	10	1633	11581	0.141006822
  21. An actual nerd would point out that that “data” is plural, and it should read “Data show…”
    (not that I’m doing that myself, mind you…)

    1. And a nerdier nerd would point out that the “data is a plural word” is the hoariest canard in the Grammar Nazi’s bag of tricks: we’re talking data as an English word, not as a Latin one. Data in English is singular.

      1. And a nerdier nerd would point out that the “data is a plural word” is the hoariest canard in the Grammar Nazi’s bag of tricks: we’re talking data as an English word, not as a Latin one. Data in English is singular.

        In non-Science disciplines in the US, data is treated as an uncountable noun similar to the word information. A number of scientists and the British are trying to hold on dearly to the idea that data is a countable noun.

        It is clearly not a countable noun from a computer science point of view. There is no such thing as a datum as all data has metadata.

  22. Daen beat me to the punch. So all I have to say is this:

    The Data on this thread shows that BoingBoing is full of nerds.

    1. Good job. That’s what we’re really after, with the disclaimer that magpiekilljoy@~42 points out.

      lasttide@~46: Thanks for mentioning what I was about to. Austin has been voting consistently democrat in the last several presidential elections, despite being in a sea of red.

    2. Nice re-graph websorcerer, breaks it down by pop nicely.

      Go San Francisco! We rock!

      Lookin’ forward to part 2 of the blog’s topic; good stuff.

  23. I just want to say that real nerds don’t need university structure, don’t care about accreditation, and view their possession or non-possession of a degree as entirely immaterial to their nerd cred.

    1. Also, a disappointingly small percentage of people with degrees are actually nerds. School is usually taken as a career move rather than an opportunity to learn for its own sake.

  24. This also just shows that NYC and SF are the most densely populated cities on the list.

  25. Another factor about SF — It is surrounded by water hence the population density gradient from “down-town” to the edge of the “defined” metro area is essentially a straight cut-off. There is no tail-end pop density to dilute the count per sq. mile. And I agree, not all degrees engender or define nerds – I would count only science and engineering degreed persons.

  26. It looks as though the data for SF combines the larger SF metro area — including Oakland, Berkeley, and the Peninsula. If you filter the data universe on the census site by state and city, you see a different story. Check out Palo Alto at 78%. Now that’s where the nerds are….

  27. Interestingly enough, another bar chart plotting the density per square mile of people who think the College Degree Density chart is not very well-conceived is EXACTLY THE SAME!

  28. Really? All nerds have university degrees and all uni graduates are nerds? I would’ve thought BB, of all places, would’ve realized that’s a sucky thing to assume.


  29. Am I the only one who sees this data as being an indicator of the cost of living in these cities? San Francisco and New York are outrageously expensive, and the people with high-paying jobs (read: college graduates) can afford to live comfortably in them. Conversely, Oklahoma City is relatively less expensive, and a person working at a blue-collar, lower-paying job can afford to live comfortably there.

  30. A more useful metric would be Degrees Per Capita. The ‘Degrees Per Square Mile’ metric is biased towards cities with a higher population density

  31. I’m just glad we got to talking about the maths away from the red state/blue state stuff… one can crunch statistics like this many ways and see varying results with varying (and often seemingly contradictory) implications.

  32. Hmm. I read “more people with bachelors’ or graduate degrees” as “more bachelors” and thought, “But isn’t that what they always say about San Francisco?”

  33. This is college degrees per square mile. It needs to be compared with population density as well. I mean, its almost a Duh factor that New York will have more college degrees per square mile than Dallas.

  34. any nerd could tell you, there is a correlation problem with this graph… all it tells you is that, with the exception of New York, those cities are more densely populated.

    That graph looks pretty much like the population density graph minus the college grad data, with the exception of New York as I said.

    So, rather than San Fran being full of Nerds, New York is surprisingly absent of them.

  35. Great. I live in SF and don’t have any secondary education. And as long as I keep paying the rents that they charge around here, I’ll never be able to afford a degree in anything.

    I liked this other infographic I saw years ago that depicted SF as the nation’s greatest consumer of books and liquor. None dare question the accuracy of that study.

  36. Grads with non-science/engineering degrees can totally be nerds. And what about the abundance of nerds without degrees??

  37. I was thinking along the lines of #61. College degree does not equal nerd. I’m not talking about the non-college degree nerds out there, which are many. I would say the majority of college degree owners are just that, owners of a college degree. Most would agree that they lack ‘nerd’ credentials. I would venture to say that most would be offended by being called a nerd.

    Once again trying to find nerds under every weed and mushroom.

    You do not need to justify nerd-dom by watering down the special few by adding millions who have their name on a piece of paper that they bought from a collegiate degree factory.

    I think this is more of the insulating effect of the interwebs. Trying to apply your ‘piece of turf’ to the outside world in general. Because you have a degree and consider yourself a nerd has little baring on the person next to you that has a degree.

    Most importantly: So what’s San Francisco excuse then?

  38. Let me clarify though: I love nerds. My best friends are nerds. I’m just the shadow in the sun. Let’s keep the nerd club within a reasonable size. If everyone is special, then no one is.

  39. What would be more interesting to me is an analysis of smaller incorporated population centers and the per capita post graduate degree rates. Which is higher: Los Alamos NM, Cambridge MA, Berkley CA or Bellingham WA?

  40. “bachelors’ OR graduate degrees” ? Is there anyone with a graduate degree who does not have a bachelor’s degree?

    1. There are combo-pak programs. I shared a dorm floor with a bunch of 6-year med students, who went straight for the doctorate. There are also zero-to-masters programs.

  41. 1) Yes, there are people who have graduate degrees who never bothered finishing their Bachelors.

    2) Normalizing by population: Boston and SF metro areas appear to be pretty comparable in size. NYC metro area appears to be 4x larger, which would kick it quite far down the list if we normalized to population.

    Of course one could also normalize to density per square mile.

    I’ll leave the detailed number crunching to someone who has the time and inclination. But it would be nice to see what those alternatives look like… and maybe to see each city broken down by county or similar unit, to see how evenly the geeks are distributed.

    (Old joke: A new manager asked his staff for a list of his employees broken down by sex. He was told “None of them are broken down by sex, but I think we may have an alcoholic or two.”)

  42. Homeless people tend to go toward cities with moderate temps. Won’t find many homeless in Burlington VT or Portland ME or Fargo ND, life in winter is just too hard. Even Boston and NYC are rough in the winter.

    Lots more homeless on the west coast where the weather is kinder.

    #74: yes there are. People get accepted into grad school, get incompletes in their final undergrad term and don’t graduate, but they go on to grad school anyway and finish the incompletes “later”. Happens more often than you think.

  43. yet another reason to never go to SF again. The snobbery is off the charts, and this proves it.

  44. If only Baltimore had one more nerd per square mile. Then its nerd density would have been 1337 per square mile!

  45. Why are all of the major college towns exclused from this chart? Berkley, Madison, Ann Arbor?

  46. I might take this whole thing more seriously if they had spelled “Baltimore” correctly.

  47. I think I saw one person point out that this correlates to cost of living and so high-ranking cities tend to exclude inhabitants with lower-paying jobs. OK, I am glad someone brought that up. I think the consequences extend a little further than that. Effectively, this graph (or rather the per capita version everybody is clamoring for) is showing us what cities are most like gated neighborhoods. I guarantee that non-degree-holders still play a vital role in these cities’ operations, so all this chart tells us is that those people who are keeping the city going on a day-to-day basis don’t get to enjoy actually living there. Why is this a good model for a city? Isn’t class-mingling and mobility an important part of a progressive view of the world. This blog has a split personality of fighting for equality and of celebrating privilege. Which is fine, but let’s not pretend that having a birthday party that only has “100% cool people” most likely means you aren’t handing out invitations to everybody or that living in a neighborhood that has the highest rate of millionaires per capita is as much a sign of insularity as it is homegrown success. Unless of course the garbage collectors and mailmen and all those people who also play a part in your neighborhood also happen to be millionaires. Or in those cases, the question becomes, is being a degree-holding garbage collector in San Francisco better than living in another “lower-educated” city where you don’t have to spend your day with other people’s trash? A more meaningful graph, for instance, would show which city has the highest amount of degree-holders per capita in the lower-paying levels of its public servants. And then of course that would need to be compiled with context of if those people were happy with how their degree served them, both in terms of the employment they ended up with and in terms of how they feel their degree and education have served them in life. A city where smart people can’t get the jobs they deserve would be sad. A city where people are educated and lead intellectual lives while supporting themselves with menial jobs they see as necessary and important would be a utopia. What kind of city do we want? A hard question to answer, cities by nature are of a size that requires a class to be exploited in some way or another. The smaller the city, the less true this might be, I would hope. I believe the intent behind using “per square mile” in the actual graph in this post is because it avoids the social consequences of this graph. Why are all these commenters clamoring for proof that their cities are exclusionary and promote division of educated classes? The original graph is harmless… where in America, if you bump into someone are they most likely to hold a college degree.

  48. Exactly. I lived in Miami for 4 years and theres NO way that its in the top 10 most educated cities. It is a dense city, and the actual city is more educated than the surrounding county (which is also considered miami).

  49. Though, it is pretty interesting where this chart *doesn’t* line up with population density. New York actually has a higher population density than San Francisco, but a lower number of degrees per square mile. Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington and Providence all have lower population densities than Philadelphia, Chicago, or Miami, so their position on the list actually is relevant.

  50. From the Census link in one of the earlier comments, which uses metropolitan statistical areas:

    Highest % of population with college degrees:
    Davis, CA 70.3
    Ithaca, NY 68.1
    Boulder, CO 67.9
    State College, PA 64.5
    Hightstown, NJ 60
    Ames, IA 58.7
    Iowa City, IA 57.2
    Lafayette–Louisville, CO 56.9
    Corvallis, OR 52
    Champaign, IL 51.7
    Charlottesville, VA 51
    Ann Arbor, MI 50.5
    Columbia, MO 50.3
    Lawrence, KS 50.2

    Some major cities and middling destinations:
    Washington, DC–VA–MD 49.8
    San Francisco–Oakland, CA 43.7
    Austin, TX 41.6
    Boston, MA–NH–RI 41.5
    Minneapolis–St. Paul, MN 39.6
    Seattle, WA 37.5
    Atlanta, GA 37.1
    New York–Newark, NY–NJ–CT 34.8
    Kansas City, MO–KS 33.6
    Chicago, IL–IN 33
    Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington, TX 29.5
    Los Angeles–Long Beach–Santa Ana, CA 28.7
    Houston, TX 28.6
    Miami, FL 28.5
    Detroit, MI 26.7

    Lowest % of population with college degrees:
    Odessa, TX 13
    Yuma, AZ–CA 12.9
    Manteca, CA 12.5
    Victorville–Hesperia–Apple Valley, CA 12.5
    Texas City, TX 12.2
    Middletown, OH 11.8
    Hemet, CA 11.7
    Watsonville, CA 11
    Zephyrhills, FL 10.9
    Porterville, CA 8.8
    Madera, CA 8.2

    Obviously this scoring could be improved a great deal by weighting for the level, institutional selectivity and field difficulty of the degrees (a Ph.D. in math from CalTech should count more than basket-weaving BA from Hog Hollerin’ College). Plotting it by zip code on a map would give it a more consistent granularity and intuitive usefulness.

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