Last week I saw an interesting post on /r/dataisbeautiful from /u/rapgod89. It featured a pair of graphs collating data from a few sources about US Passport Holders since 1989. I decided to go track down the data myself and have created my own graph of the data. Pulling data from the US State Department, the Census Bureau and The World Bank, I’ve put together a single interactive chart displaying the count of US passport holders, versus the total population of the US. This is all tied up with a trend line showing the percentage of US passport holders when compared to the total population.
What I find most interesting about all of this is that since 1989, the number of US passport holders has grown steadily, even outgrowing passport growth. The data shows that 3% of US citizens held a passport in 1989 (the year we were born!) and has increased to almost 38% as of 2014. I saw a number of comments in the /u/rapgod’s original thread featured people hypothesizing that this growth was largely due to the changing rules that stated US citizens needed a passport to visit Canada and Mexico. The rules changed as part of the Western Hemisphere Travel initiative in 2007. There certainly is a noticeable increase in the percentage of passport holders from 2007-2009, but for the most part it seems to be a fairly consistent growth rate for me and actually seems to be returning to the 2000-2006 growth rate.
In short, it seems to me that new rules requiring passports for crossing the border in to Canada or Mexico have certainly led to more US citizens getting their passports, but the fact of the matter is that population of passport holders has been increasing steadily since 1989 and appears to still be increasing. This may be due to global travel becoming slowly less prohibitive in cost as well as the increase in globalization, leading to an increase in people who travel for work. I’m not sure where to pull data from that would support this theory – these are just my guesses. I would be interested to see the numbers on average international plane ticket costs adjusted for inflation from 1989-2014 to see how these numbers compare.
Perhaps it may be naive and overly optimistic, but I hope that this trend represents a growing interest in the world on behalf of US citizens. Barring the occasional horror story that comes out of tourists behaving like lunatics, more people crossing borders to experience the world and its joys can’t be a bad thing.