Interpolating U.S. Decennial Census Tract Data from as Early as 1970 to 2010: A Longtitudinal Tract Database

Prof Geogr. 2014 Jul 1;66(3):412-420. doi: 10.1080/00330124.2014.905156.


Differences in the reporting units of data from diverse sources and changes in units over time are common obstacles to analysis of areal data. We compare common approaches to this problem in the context of changes over time in the boundaries of U.S. census tracts. In every decennial census many tracts are split, consolidated, or changed in other ways from the previous boundaries to reflect population growth or decline. We examine two interpolation methods to create a bridge between years, one that relies only on areal weighting and another that also introduces population weights. Results demonstrate that these approaches produce substantially different estimates for variables that involve population counts, but they have a high degree of convergence for variables defined as rates or averages. Finally the paper describes the Longitudinal Tract Data Base (LTDB), through which we are making available public-use tools to implement these methods to create estimates within 2010 tract boundaries for any tract-level data (from the census or other sources) that are available for prior years as early as 1970.

Keywords: 2010 Census; areal interpolation; census geography; census tract; population interpolation.