Regional Differences in Literate Behaviors

President Jack Miller


Some regional and state trends begin to emerge when the individual cities are organized geographically following traditional, but somewhat arbitrary, groupings:

Mid-Atlantic states and New England: 9 cities over 250,000
South: 13 cities
Midwest and Plains: 18 cities
Southwest: 14 cities
Mountain states and the Northwest: 8 cities
California, with the inclusion of Hawaii: 15 cities


Mid-Atlantic States and New England
There are clear and major regional differences. The Mid-Atlantic states and New England has 55 percent of their cities in the top quartile for literate behavior nationally. Those cities include Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York City, and Boston. All but one city, Jersey City, NJ, are above the median for all cities studied.


Midwest and Plains
The next highest grouping is the Midwest and Plains states. This region has one-third of its cities in the top quartile. They include Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. Fully 66 percent of the cities are over the median of cities studied. Only one city, Wichita, was in the lowest quartile.


The third leading region could be described as, "the Old South;" three cities are in the top quartile, and another five are above the median, for a total of eight of the 13 cities above the median.


Mountain States and Northwest
In the Mountain states and Northwest, 50 percent of its ranked cities are at or above the median. Three of the cities are in the top quartile. They include Seattle, Denver, and Portland.


One of the two lowest regions is California. California has two cities in the top quartile, San Francisco and Honolulu (which was added for regional convenience into California's collection of cities). Perhaps most concerning is that more than half of the cities, 53 percent, are in the lowest quartile of all cities studied, with another two cities in the second lowest quartile, for a total of 66 percent of California's ranked cities below the median.


Finally, the lowest region is the Southwest in which there are 14 ranked cities. This region includes cities from the states of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. None of the cities in this region is in the top quartile; only two are in the second quartile, including Austin and Dallas. Fifty percent of the cities are in the lowest quartile and five more are in the next lowest quartile. Thus, 86 percent of the cities in the Southwest are below the median of all cities studied.


In addition to these regional groupings, there are also some interesting trends by state. First, it is important to note that only 18 of the 50 United States have more than one city over the 250,000 threshold for the urban "city" population, as distinct from the "metropolitan statistical area." California leads the way with 14 of these cities, Texas has nine, Ohio four, Florida three, North Carolina three, and thirteen other states have two. There are two states represented in the America's Most Literate Cities ranking that have both of their two ranked cities in the top quartile. Minnesota is represented by Minneapolis and St. Paul; and Missouri, by both Kansas City and St. Louis.


An interesting trend develops out of the regions and states, which indicates that it may take a very long history to develop a culture of literate practice. The oldest cities in the Northeast, including Boston, New York, and others, have some of the highest literacy practice levels. Moving from Northeast to Southwest, there are fewer and fewer highly ranked cities. It is also important to note that cities with a high percentage of non-English speakers, low-income families, and undocumented workers also tend to practice lower literate behaviors. That is quite understandable, as those who struggle economically are far less likely to utilize libraries, subscribe to newspapers, purchase books, and so forth.


It is also interesting to note that the "Rust Belt" is not as "rusty" as people may think. From the traditional Rust Belt cities, there are none in the bottom quartile, and several cities, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland, are in the top quartile. This may diffuse part of the stereotype or be a reflection of the changing nature of cities that have "reinvented" themselves.


There are also some cities which are very real exceptions to the regions in which they exist. From the Old South, there are three cities in the top quartile, in terms of practice of literate behavior, including Lexington, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Also, San Francisco is in the top quartile and the only city in California which even approximates that ranking.