Shelby County Demographics on the Map

by Ryan Hanson, MA, MSBA, Senior Researcher

Demographics take on new meaning when put into their spatial context. Maps enable new relationships and patterns to be viewed and understood more easily than tabular data alone. The new information created by placing the data in its spatial context can allow for better understanding and decision-making than was previously possible.

The following series of maps show demographic indicators for Shelby County by ZIP codes. The data come from the American Community Survey five-year averages and are related to several topics: population, household income, and race. Although there are only three different demographic topics mapped, similar spatial patterns are seen across all the indicators due to the relationship between socioeconomics and geography.

Map 1 shows Shelby County population by ZIP code. Although the population numbers tend to be lower in the center of the city, these ZIP codes are geographically smaller. This illustrates the population density in the core of Memphis and the decreasing density in northern and eastern Shelby County.

Map 2 shows the population change by ZIP code that occurred in Shelby County between the 2011 and 2015 five-year average. The light and dark blue colors indicate ZIP codes where the population decreased; and the green, yellow, and red colors show areas of growth.  Population decline was most significant in ZIP codes located in South Memphis, Frayser, and Cordova in ZIP code 38028. Conversely, population growth was most substantial in downtown Memphis, areas of Hickory Hill, and the municipalities in eastern Shelby County

One of the key economic geographical features of Shelby County is the Poplar Corridor, which runs from downtown Memphis to Collierville in southeastern Shelby County. The corridor is not only an area of high physical elevation, in terms of being above sea level, but it also has a high level of socioeconomic standing compared to other areas of the county as it is one of the main centers of business and retail activity in the county. Another important economic corridor for both the county and the state of Tennessee is Interstate 40. Map 3 helps illustrate the effects of these geographic features by showing median household incomes. Higher median household incomes are found along the Poplar Corridor beginning in East Memphis and heading toward Collierville, as well as municipalities in eastern Shelby County near Interstate 40.

Demographics on race also show the impact of the corridors and the relationship between socioeconomics and geography (Map 4). The ZIP codes with the highest percentage of African Americans are located in western Shelby County above and below the Poplar Corridor, while the ZIP codes with the highest percentage of whites are located along the Poplar Corridor and in the municipalities in northern and eastern Shelby County (Map 5).

The two primary minority groups in Shelby County, Hispanics and Asians, also have population patterns that relate to economic and geographic determinates. These populations are more recent arrivals to Shelby County and as such demonstrate similar but distinct settlement patterns. Hispanics have located above and below the Poplar Corridor, primarily in the Nutbush and Berclair neighborhoods of Memphis, as well as in southeast Memphis and Bartlett (Map 6). This settlement pattern is frequently attributed to the desire of new immigrants to locate in ethnic enclaves where others from their home countries have settled,1 as well as a desire to take advantage of the lower cost of living found in these areas.

In percentage terms, Asians comprise one of the smallest racial demographics in Shelby County. They are settling mostly in downtown Memphis and the eastern Shelby County portion of the Poplar Corridor (Map 7). Many Asian immigrants are coming to the United States to fill high-tech-related and high-skilled jobs, such as those found in the computer and medical fields.2 These high-skilled jobs offer higher wages and tend to be located in centralized parts of cities. Accordingly, Asian settlement patterns are greatest in downtown Memphis near the medical district and along the eastern portion of the Poplar Corridor near major employment centers.

1 ”Ethnic enclaves.” (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from

2 ”Asian Immigrants in the United States.” (2017, March 02). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from