Five revealing charts from our spring issue

Chuck Burke | Mar 20, 2018

Data are tremendous storytellers. They can tell us why investors trade as though they aren’t considering total returns, why adding grocery stores to food deserts might not close the nutrition gap, and why we shouldn’t panic over the widespread slowdown in labor productivity (yet). Our appreciation for data’s storytelling power is part of why we included nearly two dozen charts and infographics in our Spring 2018 issue—and why we pulled from that group five particularly striking data visualizations, which are presented below.

Our print format allowed us to present a dramatic vertical chart.

Why most investors don’t know what their true market returns are

When investors turn to financial-news outlets and brokerage statements for information on stocks, they are typically presented with share price changes as a default—without meaningful data on dividends, which would give them a clearer picture of total returns. The researchers’ historical look at reinvested dividends illustrates the importance of considering the total return.

Higher income, healthier groceries

Bringing fresh analysis to the policy question of food deserts and the nutrition gap between higher- and lower-income US households, researchers find that people’s preferences for healthy food, rather than an adequate supply of it, may be the driving factor. This chart illustrates the researchers’ counterfactual analysis of factors related to supply and demand that could explain the disparity among income groups.

Why hasn’t technology sped up productivity?

In an essay about US labor productivity, Chicago Booth’s Chad Syverson looks back at an era starting around 1890—marked by the advent of the internal combustion engine and other technologies—that saw alternating periods of quicker and slower productivity growth. He sees a parallel to our experience thus far in the information-technology era, suggesting that new waves of productivity acceleration are possible. This charting approach puts the two eras on a single timeline and aligns the years 1915 and 1995 to establish an apples-to-apples comparison.

How Sarbanes-Oxley led to pricier audits for everyone

Exploring the effects of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, researchers find that after its stricter accounting standards for public companies went into effect, certified public accountants started doing less work for private companies and charging higher fees to nonprofits. These charts prominently feature confidence intervals, which are a range of values for each data point indicating the researchers’ level of trust in its accuracy—the narrower the range, the greater their confidence. Here we visually highlight the confidence intervals that are fully above or below the zero axis lines; those intervals allow the researchers to report which values are almost certainly positive or negative—a key aspect of their findings.