The United States is the most powerful country in the world. The country has traditionally been a champion of democracy and human rights, but faces criticism for its self-proclaimed role as world police. The country’s controversial President Donald Trump is making headlines and political fluctuations both nationally and internationally.
Key figures and facts
- Capital: Washington DC
- Ethnic groups: Whites 72.4%, Blacks 12.6%, Asians 4.8%, Amerindians and Indigenous people in Alaska 0.9%, Indigenous people in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands 0.2%, other 6.2%, mixed ethnic background 2, 9% Approximately 16.3% of the US population is “Hispanic”, originating from Central and South America or Spain. (2010)
- Language: English 79%, Spanish 13%, other Indo-European languages 3.7%, Asian and Pacific languages 3.4%, other 1%. In Hawaii, Hawaiian is the official language, and in Alaska there are 20 official indigenous languages. (2015)
- Religion: Protestants 46.5%, Roman Catholic 20.8%, Jews 1.9%, Mormon 1.6%, other Christians 0.9%,, Muslims 0.9%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 0.8%, Buddhists 0, 7%, Hindu 0.7%, other/unspecified 2.6%, none 22.8% (2014)
- Population: 326 766 748
- Control Form: Constitutional Federal Republic
- Area: 9 831 510 km2
- Currency: dollar
- GNP per capita: 57 638 PPP $
- National Day: July 4th
Population of the United States
The United States has 328,063,586 residents (US Census, July 2018). The population comes from all parts of the world and is made up of several ethnic groups. 37 different countries are the countries of origin of more than one million Americans. The majority of the population is white, originating mainly from Germany, Ireland and England. Another large group is so-called Hispanics, Hispanic from Latin America. Then comes African-Americans, originating from various African countries, and American Indigenous peoples.
Whites make up 76 percent, Hispanics 18 percent, African-Americans 13 percent, Asians six percent, U.S. Indigenous people 1.3 percent and Pacific Islanders 0.2 percent (2018). The figures are collected more than 100 percent because some claim to belong to several groups. About 82 percent of the population lives in densely populated areas, and there are 295 cities with more than 100,000 residents (2013).
In the time since colonization began in the 17th century, the United States has experienced strong population growth, which, in addition to high natural growth, is due to high immigration, especially in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the nation’s birth in 1776, the population was around three million. A hundred years later, that figure was about 46 million, and by the 200th anniversary of 1976, the United States had 218 million residents. In 2000, the population in the country’s 3142 counties was estimated at approximately 281 million.
Growth in the period 1990–2000 was 1.1 percent annually, a large part of which is due to immigration. In October 2006, the population passed 300 million, and the Spanish or Portuguese speakers (Hispanics) had become the largest minority with almost 42 million or about 14 percent. Today, Hispanics are still the largest minority with over 57 million, about 18 percent.
The country’s original population
The American indigenous peoples (often called ” Native Americans “, often called Native Americans or First Americans) live mainly in separate reserves, most west of the Mississippi, and in cities, often concentrated in their own quarters. Indigenous peoples in what is today the United States when America became known to Europeans in 1492 is a controversy among the experts. The estimates range from 800,000 to several million, but most researchers prefer figures of the order of one million.
In the context of European colonization of the country, the population was greatly reduced due to war, exploitation and diseases brought by Europeans, reaching a low at the end of the 19th century. In 1900, the number was 237,000, in 1970 793,000, in 1980 was approximately 1.4 million, and in 1990 almost two million. At the 2000 census, one could indicate affiliation to several “races” (at the census, people even indicate ethnic affiliation), which complicates comparisons with previous measurements. About 2.5 million were thought to be “pure” Indians or Inuit, while over 4.1 million (1.5 percent of the United States population) indicated Native or Inuit origin combined with other backgrounds.
The strong increase in the years 1960–1990 is largely due to awareness and pride of descent among the indigenous people, as well as the opportunity to benefit from compensation for lost land that some tribes have been granted, rather than high birth rates. At the 2010 census, more than 2.9 million were of pure Native American or Inuit origin, and the number with a combined background grew to over 5.2 million (1.7 percent of the United States population).
In 2000, approximately 35 million Americans were over the age of 65. This was an increase of 12 percent since 1990. But for the first time, this group grew more slowly than the total population, which increased by 13.2 percent over the same period. In 2000, the group aged 65-74 accounted for approximately 53 percent of the elderly (65+), the group aged 75-84 represented approximately 35 percent, while approximately 12 percent was over 85 years. However, the group over 85 years represented the strongest growth, with a full 38 percent. In contrast, the group aged 65-74 increased by only two percent (the number in the group aged 65-69 actually showed a decline of six percent), which was due to the low birth rates in the 1920s and 1930s. The female dominance was high in all groups over the age of 65, a total of 20.6 million women compared to 14.4 million men, and the gap was increasing with age.
In 2018, 16 percent of the population was over 65. The number over 65 is expected to double in the coming decades, from 49 million today to 95 million in 2060, as this group is expected to make up almost a quarter of the population (US Census, 2018).
The first real colonization with permanent settlement took place in 1607 with the founding of Jamestown, Virginia. Later, New England was colonized (from 1620), and between these areas settled among other Dutch and Swedes (New York and Delaware). By the end of the 1600s, however, the entire east coast was from Georgia to New England on British hands. In the 18th century, immigration continued, and the population increased from about 210,000 in 1690 to 1.6 million in 1760 in English America. During this time, other nationalities joined the immigration, primarily Scots, Irish and Germans. At the beginning of the 18th century, the transport of African slaves to the United States began in earnest, almost exclusively to the southern states. In 1750, South Carolina had twice as many blacks as white residents.
During the 18th century the settlement was limited to the coastal plain. The Appalachians constituted a barrier to colonization westward. The French settlement of Québec (founded in 1608) and the Spanish dominion of Florida also limited the extent of settlement to the north and south respectively.
The really big immigration stream first came out in the 19th century, after the Napoleonic wars. While the average annual immigration during the period 1783–1820 was slightly below 7,000, it increased to approximately 260,000 annually in the 1850s and 880,000 annually in the period 1901–1910. In some years only in the 1900s, immigration exceeded one million.
Not only the immigrant population, but also the ethnic composition of the immigrant population underwent major changes until the First World War. In 1871-1880, 92 percent of immigrants came from Northern, Western and Central Europe, mainly the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany and the Nordic countries. In the period 1891–1900, 52 percent of European immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe (in the period 1901–1920 77 percent). At the same time as this shift towards Eastern and Southern Europe, the number of immigrants from Asia increased, first with China as the most important country (from the 1850s), later from Japan, Korea and the Philippines.
The first immigrants settled mainly as farmers. Immigration during the 19th century came from a Europe that was largely a farming community. This created a strong demand for land in the United States, and immigration thus became a decisive factor for colonization westward. The colonization west of the Appalachians started in earnest just after the states became independent, but it was not until the end of the 19th century that the “vacant” agricultural land in the United States was largely used. In this way, the immigration stream was gradually channeled to the cities. Thus, a significant element of southern and eastern Europeans as well as Asians were obtained in the cities, while the countryside was completely dominated by people of northern and western European origin.
The strong immigration naturally brought with it a number of problems, and it created a good deal of dissatisfaction that manifested itself in quite strong anti-immigration waves, especially in the 1890s and during and after the First World War. These moods were partly a product of increased competition in the labor market and on the housing front, but also to some extent conditional on xenophobia and even racism. The series of restrictions introduced in the period 1882–1929 also had as a main consequence that less “desirable” individuals (mentally ill, prostitutes and people who could become a burden on the public) and entire peoples, oriental and southern and Eastern Europeans, were held out or released in smaller numbers than before.
The first group to be shut out was the Chinese, by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1907, the Japanese were virtually banned by the Gentlemen’s Agreement between the United States and Japan. Illiterate people were denied access through the Literacy Actin 1917, and in 1921 a quota system was introduced. The Act of 1921 imposed a “ceiling” on immigration from each country calculated on the basis of the number from their nationality group in the year 1910 (three percent). In 1924, the ceiling was lowered to two percent, while the base year was traced back to 1890, and all Oriental groups were excluded. This led to a further restriction on immigration from southern and eastern Europe, since the main stream from there assumed large dimensions only after 1890. The base year was then changed to 1920 in the law which came into force in 1929.
Until 1965, only minor changes were made to immigration laws, essential special arrangements for refugees after World War II and from communist states in Europe. The 1965 Act replaced the quota system based on nationality with quota systems for the eastern hemisphere (with a ceiling of 20,000 from a single country) and the western hemisphere. In 1978 this was changed to a common ceiling of 290,000, with a maximum of 20,000 from a single country. Two years later, the annual quota was lowered somewhat, while the Refugee Act separated refugees from ordinary immigration.
In particular, it was the illegal immigration from Mexico that was behind the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which was finally enacted in 1986. Those who could prove that they had been in the country before January 1, 1982, were granted a residence permit. With the Immigration Act of 1990, a selective immigration policy was again introduced, setting up a separate quota (140,000) with so-called “economic visas” for people with much needed expertise, as well as for people who could provide jobs. Likewise, the law set a special quota for nationalities that had become particularly prejudiced by the 1965 law (for example, the Irish). The law also introduced a moving ceiling on immigration for the next few years, and also meant amnesty for “undocumented” relatives of immigrants who had been legalized by the 1986 law (mainly Mexicans).
Congress has long been working on additional legislation to restrict and control immigration, especially from Mexico, while also aiming to legalize some of the estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants currently in the country. In 2006, President George W. Bush submitted several proposals involving labor contracts, amnesty schemes and the like, but the proposals met with strong opposition in Congress. Consequently, they were set aside after the congressional elections in November 2006. Congress nevertheless decided to build a fence of 1126 kilometers along the Mexico border, which the president sanctioned. Donald Trump has also, without success, insisted that Congress allocate large funds to a wall along the Mexico border. In the election campaign, he promised that Mexico would pay for this.
Between 1820 and 1992, approximately 60 million people immigrated to the United States. From the beginning of mass immigration to the present, the nature of immigration has changed in accordance with, among other things, the introduction of new laws, with changes in economic conditions, both in the sender and the recipient countries, and with the progress made in the means of communication.
The United States’ foreign-born population is expected to rise from 44 million people today to 69 million in 2060, ie from 14 to 17 percent of the population. The previous historical peak was in 1890, when almost 15 percent of the population was born abroad (US Census, 2018).
The Norwegians live especially in the upper Midwest (Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota) and in the western states of Montana and Washington, as well as Texas and New York. With the exception of New York, the Norwegian settlement has largely been in the countryside. Other ethnicities include the large number of Mexicans in the southwest, Italians and Irish on the northeast coast, Germans in a wide belt from Pennsylvania and the Midwest, and Canadians in the north, especially on the New England coast, and in the Mississippi Delta (cajuns= acadians). Until recent decades, immigration to the Southern States has been low.
The ethnic composition of the population also shows major regional differences. Before the Civil War (1861-1865), most blacks lived in the southern states. After the abolition of slavery, a veritable stream of blacks began to the northern states, especially to the cities of the east. Today, blacks make up a disproportionately large proportion of the population in the poor inner-city districts, although more and more people have moved to affluent suburbs. In a special position stands the District of Columbia (Washington), where the population is predominantly non-white, and where the blacks make up about two-thirds. In 1790, blacks accounted for approximately 19.3 percent of the United States population, in 1930 approximately 9.7 percent and in 2000 approximately 12.3 percent or 34.6 million. Hispanics totaled 35.3 million (12.5 percent) in 2000 and has exceeded African Americans in number. However, Hispanics do not constitute a “racial” minority, but a language-based category.
Otherwise, Cubans and Puerto Ricans are an important part of hispanics, in Miami (Dade County) and New York City, respectively. The Puerto Ricans are US citizens, as the islands are US federal territory. In several cities, there have been rubbish between different ethnic groups, often as a result of conflicts of interest (for example, in the job and housing market between blacks and Hispanics) or ethnic roles (for example, Korean merchants in black residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles).
Immigration from Asia, mainly Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese, and from the Pacific Islands has been great in recent decades. These have mostly settled on the west coast and in 2000 constituted about 4.2 percent of the population. The large immigration of Hispanics, mainly from Mexico, has led to them now being the largest minority group.
The non-Hispanic white population is projected to shrink over the coming decades, from 199 million in 2020 to 179 million in 2060 – although overall the population continues to grow. The decline is driven by falling birth rates and increasing numbers of deaths over time as the non-Hispanic white population ages. In comparison, regardless of Spanish origin, the white population is expected to grow from 253 million to 275 million in the same period (US Census, 2018).
Ever since the United States became a separate nation, the center of gravity of the population has been moving westward. From 1790 to 1990, the population center of gravity moved from Baltimore at Chesapeake Bay to Steelville, Missouri. At the 1980 census, it had moved west of the Mississippi River for the first time. From the time around World War I to the end of World War II there was a marked migration of people from the countryside to the cities. In 1920, the population was divided equally between city and country. After World War II, a new trend began, the move from cities to suburbs, which continued at full strength until the early 1970s. From the late 1950s, a noticeable regional population shift also began, from the northeastern states and the Midwest to the southern states, the “Sun Belt,” the two southernmost ranks of states. This trend continued into the 1980s, when it slowed and to some extent reversed by the economic downturn.
In the decade 1981–1990, the population in the western states increased by 22.3 percent and in the southern states by 13.4 percent, compared with the national average of 9.8 percent. A clear trend in the decade 1981–1990 was a “continental dilution”, a general movement from the inland to the coast, both in the north and south. However, the main conclusion of the development from 1960 to 1993 is that the southern and western states increased their share of the population, from 46.3 percent (30.7 percent and 15.6 percent) to 56.4 percent (34.7 percent and 21.7 percent).).
In the decade 1991–2000, the population increased by as much as 32.7 million. (13.2 percent) nationally, the largest increase in clean numbers in a decade in US history (relatively the population increased the most in the 1950s, by 18.4 percent). Western states grew the fastest by 19.7 percent and the Southern States by 17.3 percent, while in the Midwest, the population grew by a moderate 7.9 percent and in the Northeast states by only 5.5 percent. Nevada grew the fastest by 66 percent, while North Dakota’s growth was 0.5 percent. In the south, the population of Georgia increased the most, by 26 percent, while the nation’s capital, Washington, yielded a full 5.7 percent. In the Midwest, Minnesota increased the most for the third consecutive year by 12 percent. The four regions now have 63.2, 100.2, 64.4 and 53.6 million residents respectively. In the belt along the Mexico border, growth was 21 percent, while along the Canadian border it was only 0.8 percent. In the 1950s-2000s, the southern states increased their share of the population from 31 to 36 percent and the western states from 13 to 22 percent, while the Midwest lost its share from 29 to 23 percent and the northeast states from 26 to 19 percent.
From 2000 to 2010, the percentage increase in the population was the lowest in a decade since the 1930s, and about the same level as in the period 1980-1909. The increase for the whole country was about 27.3 million (9.7 percent), and the population was about 308.7 million in 2010. The average hides large regional differences: the southern states increased by 14.2 percent and the western states by 13.8 percent while The Midwest had an increase of 3.9 percent and the northeastern states increased by 3.2 percent. In 2010, the southern states had approximately 114.6 million residents. The Western states had about 71, 9 million, and passed for the first time the Midwest, which had about 66.9 million in population. In the northeastern states, approximately 55.3 million residents lived in 2010. The southern states and the western states together accounted for 84.4 percent of the total population increase during the period.
Nevada was the fastest growing state in the decade 2000-2010 (35.1 percent), followed by Arizona (24.6 percent) and Utah with 23.8 percent. Texas had the largest nominal increase with approximately 4.3 million residents, California followed closely with 3.4 million and Florida with 2.8 million. The only state with a decline in population between 2000 and 2010 was Michigan, which had a reduction of about 55,000 (0.6 percent).
As a result of the high mobility, significant population concentrations (conurbations) have emerged in several places in the country. The largest, commonly known as Megalopolis, extends north and south from New York City. Another center of gravity is the Chicago area and a third is the Los Angeles region. Future researchers talk about three “megalopoles”: “Boshwash” (Boston – Washington, DC), “Chipitts” (Chicago – Pittsburgh), and “Sansan” (San Francisco – San Diego).
Like other industrialized countries, the United States has seen strong growth in the proportion of the population living in or around cities. About 1920, half lived in cities. In 1990, 75.2 percent of the population lived in urban areas (towns with at least 2,500 residents), while in 2016 the figure was 84 percent. In 2016, there were 382 metropolitan regions (Metropolitan Statistical Areas, abbreviated MSA, areas with over 50,000 residents). Of these, 53 had over one million residents and comprised about 55 percent of the population. In 2016, approximately 25 percent lived in metropolitan regions with at least five million. New York is the largest metropolitan region with 20,320,876 residents (US Census, 2017).
The largest cities in the United States
|New York City||New York||8 538 000|
|Los Angeles||California||3 976 000|
|Chicago||Illinois||2 705 000|
|Houston||Texas||2 304 000|
|Phoenix||Arizona||1 615 000|
|Philadelphia||Pennsylvania||1 568 000|
|San Antonio||Texas||1 493 000|
|San Diego||California||1 407 000|
|Dallas||Texas||1 318 000|
|San Jose||California||1 025 000|
|San Francisco||California||871 000|
|Fort Worth||Texas||854 000|
|Charlotte||North Carolina||842 000|
|El Paso||Texas||683 000|
|Washington||District of Columbia||681 000|
|Washington||District of Columbia||659 000|
|Oklahoma City||Oklahoma||638 000|
|Las Vegas||Nevada||633 000|
|Albuquerque||New Mexico||559 000|
Source: U.S. Census, 2017
At the 2010 census, the US Census divided the population by “race” and “ethnicity”. The term Hispanic/Latino refers to populations originating in Spain or Latin America, and is the fastest growing population in the United States.
The figures in the tables below refer to the US Census estimates as of January 1, 2015.
|Race||Number of citizens||Percent|
|white||248 320 000||77.4|
|Afro-Americans||42 440 000||13.2|
|Asians||17 456 000||5.4|
|Indians and Inuit||3 988 000||1.2|
|Hawaii and Oceania||746 000||0.2|
|Multi (at least two breeds)||8 050 000||2.5|
|Ethnicity||Number of citizens||Percent|
|Hispanic/Latino (all races)||57 140 000||17.8|
|Not H/L (all breeds)||263 860 000||82.2|
|Population total||321 000 000||100.0|
Largest urban areas
|Metropolitan Statistical Areas, State (s)||Population (2016)|
|New York – Newark – Jersey City, NY, NJ, PA||20 154 000|
|Los Angeles- Long Beach – Santa Ana, CA||13 310 000|
|Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL, IN, WI||9 513 000|
|Dallas- Fort Worth -Arlington, TX||7 233 000|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||6 772 000|
|Washington- Arlington -Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV||6 132 000|
|Philadelphia-Camden- Wilmington, PA, NJ, DE, MD||6 071 000|
|Miami- Fort Lauderdale -West Palm Beach, FL||6 067 000|
|Atlanta -Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA||5 790 000|
|Boston- Cambridge -Newton, MA, NH||4 794 000|
|San Francisco- Oakland -Hayward, CA||4 679 000|
|Phoenix- Mesa -Scottsdale, AZ||4 662 000|
|San Bernardino-Riverside-Ontario, CA||4 528 000|
|Detroit-Warren- Dearborn, MI||4 297 000|
|Seattle- Tacoma -Bellevue, WA||3 799 000|
|Minneapolis – St. Paul -Bloomington, MN, WI||3 551 000|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||3 317 000|
|Tampa – St. Petersburg – Clearwater, FL||3 032 000|
|Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO||2 853 000|
|St. Louis, MO, IL||2 807 000|
|Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD||2 799 000|
|Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC||2 474 000|
|Orlando -Kissimmee-Sanford, FL||2 441 000|
|San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX||2 430 000|
|Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA||2 425 000|
Source: U.S. Census, 2017.