23andMe mapped geographic patterns for more than 1,500 traits using aggregated and anonymous customer data to produce American tapestries of everything from personality to food preferences.
The data, compiled by researcher Emma Pierson, show that there are statistically significant regional differences that go beyond red states and blue states or whether you call a soft drink a “soda” or a “pop.” Eating habits show statistically significant discrepancies by region, for example:
And, somewhat unsurprisingly, the states where people eat the most fast food are also the states where they exercise the least. Dog owners and cat owners also favor different states. That’s probably a good thing.
Illnesses also show regional differences. People catch more colds in the northern states, particularly the northeast, while people appear to get frizzy hair in humidity more often in the East. Rashes from poison oak, ivy, and sumac are most common where the plants are common. Kidney infections are more common in the South. People who report that they suffered from altitude sickness tend to favor the flatter Great Plains states, and coastal states like California and Hawaii.
Emma also found regional differences in the prevalence of certain genetic variants. This is likely tied to the concentration of people with similar ancestry in certain states. For example, genetic variants in the GBA gene that cause Parkinson’s and Gaucher disease are most often found in people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. Concentrations of people with these variants are found in the Northeast where some of the highest concentrations of people with Ashkenazi ancestry live. Other genetic traits common in people with Ashkenazi ancestry, like lactose intolerance, also peak in the Northeast. G6PD mutations, which can cause anemia and are more common in people of African ancestry, peak in states with large African populations.
While these maps highlight regional differences, they also speak to what unifies us. In some traits, especially personality traits, it’s very hard to pick out a regional pattern.
Emma, who also has a blog about statistics called Obsession with Regression, then looked at how traits correlated with how people moved from place to place.
For instance, she found that — as essayist Joan Didion said 50 years ago about New York City being “for the very young” — young people tend to flock to Gotham. Inspired by this wind map, she produced maps that track rivers of movement of people. These lines follow the path of older Americans migrating from New York to Florida, and in general out of the northeast and to the south and to California. The line means that customers who move from New York to Florida are older than those who move from Florida to New York. The redder the line, the bigger the difference and the thicker the line, the more people moving.
The maps also track the many different types of people moving either to the Northeast or California, regions that attract college graduates, people with higher incomes, people attracted to those of the same sex, and the physically attractive. Emma was even able to see political conservatives migrating out of the Northeast to places like Texas, Arizona and Florida.
While these are fun bits of seemingly random bits of data, they also have the potential to shed some light into other parts of 23andMe’s research. We ask our customer any number of things from the odd — like whether they can do a cartwheel or curl their tongue — to more serious questions about reactions to medication and whether they have had cancer. Taken together this data will help our researchers gain insight into both the genetic and non-genetic influences on various diseases and conditions.