GE’s Data Visualization Tool Reveals Demographic Shifts in America

The following post received sponsorship from GE and fits in with our ongoing series on Technology for Good.

About a month ago, we teamed up with GE to bring you a series of articles focusing on the company’s impressive data visualization tools. At the time we were talking mostly about the way GE used their tools to open up their library of annual reports going back more than 100 years. The result was not only a much more interesting way to peruse the company’s history, but also a way to look at specific technological trends.

Now, GE’s opened up their tools again.  Applying the company’s talent to something that might otherwise be quite dry, their “Working in America” data visualization lends color and relevance to the topic of employment shifts in the United States for the past 50 years.  Take a look here.  Although most of this data is publicly accessible via many open source platforms, it’s the clever presentation that makes it more useful and makes key trends more obvious.   The data also raises some interesting questions about stakeholder engagement and other social aspects of sustainability.

Let’s look at something simple first:  The ratio of males to females in the workforce:

Scrolling the data tool’s slider to 2011 and clicking the “gender” tab gives us the following chart demonstrating that today’s workforce is about 55% male.  Pretty close to even in the grand scheme of things.

The data gets more interesting when we move the slider back to 1970 and suddenly see quite graphically that 40 years ago men outnumbered women in the workforce almost 2:1.  Regardless of the causes, consider the issues and changes that this demographic shift has meant in the workplace and in society as a whole.   How have companies changed their practices to accomodate more women?  What kinds of changes are still needed?  How does this depend on the particular company or industry?



A second interesting issue is the aging of the world’s population, at least in developed countries.  Turns out you can get a pretty good look at the data for the United States through the interactive visualization.  The number of folks over 55 in the labor force has surged in the last 10 years to over 22%.  Whatever the causes, this trend begs a lot of questions:  What kinds of changes do companies need to make to accommodate an older workforce?  What kinds of lifestyle differences are likely to emerge at workplaces?

This trend probably reflects a general aging of the population due to the baby boom, but it also reflects the tendency that people have in wealthy countries to have less children.  As such, it’s a good sign of a prosperous and modern country.   However, as the population ages, and as the number of folks in retirement grows, it also presents some obvious challenges – not the least of which will be the ongoing medical care demand that inevitably increases with age.   This trend may also be indicative of the general economic recession driving older folks back to work.

As a major medical device manufacturer, GE could be seen as being in a position of opportunity.  But as a major employer, the company would be well incentivized to work with employees on maintaining healthy lifestyles, a rewarding work life, and to make accommodations in the workplace that a more varied workplace would appreciate.

On a related note, check out the rapid expansion of the healthcare sector in terms of the number of people employed.  What opportunities does this present for the ambitious entrepreneur?  What kinds of problems and costs for the larger society might this present?   Oddly, IT jobs remain a tiny portion of the labor force – about as common as farming.  This seems especially ironic given the role companies like GE play in putting people to work building applications like the very one you’re looking at.  Does it mean more education needs to be aimed at high technology?  Or that those of us in the industry just like to toot our horns?

Finally, a sobering statistic shows the “self-employed” sector has fallen in importance from being the 3rd largest group in 1960 to the 7th today.  Does this imply there is less entrepreneurship going on?  TriplePundit prides ourselves on celebrating social and eco-entrepreneurs so we wonder if this represents an opportunity to inspire more folks to take the plunge into doing their own thing.

For me, this data visualization creates a lot more questions than answers, but that’s the exactly point.   This kind of thing is valuable as a provocative conversation starter that people and companies alike can use to start getting a handle on big trends in demographics that will impact their workplace in the years to come.  That’s the very essence in sustainable thinking.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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