A History Of Cooties: Mapping The Men And Women Of New York As They Age

Women are from the Upper West Side, and men are from prison. The clustering and segregating of different genders over a lifetime says a lot about how the city works.

The other day, a friend told me the story of how he met his girlfriend. They were riding the subway, he said, and he just felt compelled to speak to her. Flirting on public transportation can be a tricky endeavor (and really, most of the time it’s just totally unwelcome), but this was a rare, mutual happening: Nearly three years later, they now live together.


As anonymous and grinding as living in New York City can be, much of it also revolves around momentous interactions of coincidence–and the self-selection process that brings people there. Films, novels, and thousands of Craigslist missed connections have been written on this phenomenon. This is why it’s fascinating to watch this population density dot map developed by the UX Blog’s John Nelson track the “blending and segregation” of the sexes in New York City by age.

Up until age 15, the gender distribution appears to be pretty even across the board, with lots of younger kids growing up in South Brooklyn and Borough Park, where Hasidic communities with big families thrive. But when teenagers and young 20-somethings get to choose where they want to live, or shuffle off to single-sex schooling or prison cells, Nelson notes, we start seeing clusters of blue and pink. One of the most obvious contrasts is up by the all female Barnard College near Columbia University, while Rikers Island starts filling up with young men.

There are young professional women abound in Midtown and the Upper East and West Sides in their mid-to-late 20s, but many also migrate to the Queens suburbs, it would appear. Between 30 and 40, the maps resemble the distributions of babies, as men and women shack up and start making them. But men and women in their 40s and 50s appear segregated again, and many middle-aged men live in Chelsea, a neighborhood celebrated for its LGBTQ culture.

At 60, the overall population begins to fade, and women ultimately win the game of longevity. The elderly cluster in upper Manhattan, as well as some parts of Queens, and Brighton Beach.

Visualizations like these make it fun to ponder if your own life follows the larger pattern of population migration, but they’re also great for practical problem-solving. Age and sex are just two examples–in July, the Weldon Cooper Center for Community Service at the University of Virginia created this amazing dot map of race across the United States. As we’re better able to visualize the flow and segregation of populations in our cities, we should also be able to better understand why that segregation occurs, and how to better serve isolated groups.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.