Exploring Neighborhood Inequality with Census Data


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This hands-on activity is designed to help students consider neighborhoods as a dimension of inequality, using census data to examine neighborhood characteristics. By selecting specific neighborhoods and variables of interest, developing hypotheses, and interpreting data, students also enhance their understanding of how sociologists evaluate inequality quantitatively. In this activity, students compare and contrast the population characteristics of two different neighborhoods. The activity begins with a tutorial on how to access and explore census data, using publicly available data from the Social Explorer website ( Next, students select two neighborhoods with which they are familiar and develop hypotheses on how the two neighborhoods compare and contrast. Using the Tables feature on Social Explorer, students select three neighborhood characteristics and provide information on these variables. Finally, students provide a written summary of their findings and examine whether their initial hypotheses were supported by the data. The activity concludes with an in-class discussion of the students’ findings. Upon completion of this activity, students will have gained experience with accessing and interpreting neighborhood-level census data. By increasing students’ understanding of inequalities that exist between neighborhoods, this activity encourages students to think beyond individualistic explanations of poverty and begin considering the spatial dimension. Further, developing hypotheses and comparing variable distributions will provide undergraduates with practice in answering their own sociological questions. As the activity asks students to select the neighborhoods and characteristics themselves, they are able to explore questions that may be of personal interest, thereby enhancing engagement with the activity.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Ellen M. Whitehead 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Introduction to Sociology/Social Problems 
Class Level:
College 100 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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This activity requires a working knowledge of variables and hypotheses in social science research. A basic introduction to quantitative social science practices is likely necessary before assigning this activity. Introduction to Sociology, Research Methods, Urban Sociology, and Social Problems are all appropriate classes for this assessment. This activity can take place...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will become familiar with population-level census data, including what information the census collects and how to explore publicly-available information with the user-friendly Social Explorer website.
Assessment 1:
Students will be guided through a Social Explorer tutorial, using the provided handout. Following these instructions, students will compile their own data tables by selecting neighborhoods and variables on the website.
Goal 2:
Students will learn about different dimensions of inequality (i.e. poverty, racial segregation, education) between neighborhoods.
Assessment 2:
Students will select which features of neighborhoods they wish to explore from the available Social Explorer variables. They will also provide a written summary of how their selected neighborhoods compare and contrast along these dimensions.
Goal 3:
Students will gain familiarity with a quantitative approach to answering sociological questions by developing hypotheses, evaluating data, and presenting their results.
Assessment 3:
Using their pre-existing knowledge about neighborhoods they are familiar with, students will develop hypotheses and compare and contrast their two selected neighborhoods in terms of their chosen variables.

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