Applied Population Lab Brings Demographic Research across State

At the Applied Population Laboratory (APL), a team of researchers, scientists, analysts, and demographers, led by Katherine Curtis (community and environmental sociology; CDE affiliate), work to translate social and economic data into useful information for Wisconsin citizens, policy makers, government agencies, and community-based organizations.

By spreading its maps, reports, and analyses beyond the confines of campus, APL aligns its research with the university’s commitment to public service—a principle known as the Wisconsin Idea. With a focus on outreach, APL faculty and staff regularly engage with non-academic audiences on complex topics from the fields of applied demography, health geography, spatial analysis, information systems, and community development. APL faculty and staff have contributed to local and national conversations on a wide array of topics, including school enrollment, youth diversity, and geographic aspects of health and healthcare.

In recent weeks, Malia Jones, an assistant scientist at the lab and CDE affiliate, appeared on Wisconsin Public Television’s Here & Now. On the show, Jones explained her research on the differences between partisan voting patterns at the county level and according to Wisconsin’s State Assembly district boundaries, which are based on population density. Wisconsin is at the center of the current Supreme Court case Gill v. Whitford on the creation of electoral districts and the role of partisanship in determining legislative district boundaries. Jones’ study, available on the website of multimedia new outlet WisContext, helped readers understand the history and implications of redistricting in the state.

Bill Buckingham, an assistant scientist and CDE affiliate, has worked closely with center faculty to apply GIS methods to research projects. Most recently, Buckingham collaborated with Amy Kind (geriatrics and CDE affiliate) on project that examined data from the census, American Community Survey, and the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention Study, among other sources. The researchers showed that people living in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods performed significantly worse on cognitive function tests and had disproportionately higher levels of an Alzheimer’s biomarker. Last summer, the Washington Post featured the research team’s findings.

Partnerships and collaboration underlie much of APL’s research, and the lab has a long history of bringing together interdisciplinary scholarship from across campus—from CDE and sociology to population health sciences, urban and regional planning, and educational policy studies. APL’s ties to the UW–Madison campus, and beyond, help it bring collaborative applied research to a wider audience.