Residents of a certain famously picturesque New England state recently got some heartwarming news about themselves. “Vermonters Love Pets,” USA Today proclaimed earlier this year, above a write-up of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s ranking of pet-ownership rates by state. What a generous and loving people Vermonters must be, to open up their homes to more furry friends, per capita, than the people of any other state. Can these really be the same folks whom The Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked 48th in the nation in charitable giving?
The vast range of communities contained within the United States is one of our greatest assets, but it is also responsible for some of our silliest conclusions about ourselves. A scan of a given day’s headlines confirms that there’s nothing quite so irresistible as a juicy ranking, and for good reason. Who doesn’t want to know how their neighbors stack up against the rest of the country? Trouble is, comparing things like consumer habits among states that have tremendous differences in income, geographic footprint, natural resources, and—perhaps most fundamental—ratio of urban to rural populations is often a waste of time.
Washington, D.C., is the classic example. The Web site PornHub.com made headlines this year when it released online-pornography-viewing rates by state, placing D.C. at the very top of the list. At least the alleged perverts living in our nation’s capital display more refined taste in other departments: the District also ranks first in wine consumption. “DC ranks #1 in being the subject of stupid ranking articles,” the urban-planning activist David Alpert tweeted shortly after the PornHub list came out. Fighting for statehood may be a passion for Washingtonians, but with 100 percent of D.C.’s roughly 630,000 residents living in an urban area, being ranked alongside the 50 states quickly loses its appeal—you almost always come out looking like the country’s chief basket case.
Of course D.C. watches more online porn and drinks more wine than the states. It’s a city—and compared with states, which include rural populations, cities have greater access to high-speed Internet, as well as higher incomes. Which makes it that much easier to pour yourself a glass of Pinot and discreetly call up the latest Joanna Angel video on your iPad. (For the record, city dwellers do not appear to be more sex-obsessed than people in the sticks—not according to yet another state ranking. The mail-order sex-toy company Adam & Eve reports that its best customers live in states with largely rural populations.)
Read more. [Image: Mikey Burton]