Infographic: The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790
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The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

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The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790

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There are only two cities that have had the distinction of being named the most populous city in the United States.

The first city to hold the title was Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love was estimated to be the biggest city in the country at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

However, by the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia by a few thousand residents – and the Big Apple has stayed the largest in the country ever since.

From Then to Now

Today’s infographic comes to us from Liberty Cruise, and it ranks the 10 most populous cities in the United States for every decade since 1790.

To start, let’s take a look at what the list looked just after the first U.S. Census in 1790:

RankCityPopulation (1790)
#1New York City, NY33,131
#2Philadelphia, PA28,522
#3Boston, MA18,320
#4Charleston, SC16,359
#5Baltimore, MD13,503
#6Northern Liberties Township, PA9,913
#7Salem, MA7,921
#8Newport, RI6,716
#9Providence, RI6,380
#10Marblehead, MA5,661

It’s pretty surreal to think that some of the biggest cities in the late 18th century hosted no more than 6,000 residents.

It also may be a surprise to many that Rhode Island – a state that ranks 50th in size and 44th in population today – held two of the largest towns in the nation at the time: Newport and Providence.

The Modern List

Jump forward over 200 years, and New York City has not lost its top spot.

It helped that NYC was able to absorb Brooklyn – one of the country’s other largest cities – into its boundaries in 1898. Other major cities saw similar merges happen over the years, with Philadelphia absorbing Northern Liberties Township, for example.

Here is a list of the most populous U.S. cities in 2017 (est.):

RankCityPopulation (Est. 2017)Population (2010 Census)Change
#1New York City, NY8,622,6988,175,133+5.47%
#2Los Angeles, CA3,999,7593,792,621+5.46%
#3Chicago, IL2,716,4502,695,598+0.77%
#4Houston, TX2,312,7172,100,263+10.12%
#5Phoenix, AZ1,626,0781,445,632+12.48%
#6Philadelphia, PA1,580,8631,526,006+3.59%
#7San Antonio, TX1,511,9461,327,407+13.90%
#8San Diego, CA1,419,5161,307,402+8.58%
#9Dallas TX1,341,0751,197,816+11.96%
#10San Jose, CA1,035,317945,942+9.45%

In contrast to the NYC of today, the 1790 population looks more like a Long Island suburb.

This rapid urbanization is mainly thanks to Industrial Revolution, which triggered a massive migration to cities, allowing New York to grow 26,000% in total population.

Here’s how the population distribution of New York City’s five boroughs has changed over time:

NYC Borough population over time

Interested in learning more about the country’s largest cities?

See the electrifying pulse of a Manhattan workday or view a 3d map that shows how much U.S. metro areas contribute to economic growth.

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Demographics

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Which cities rank as the best places to live worldwide? This map reveals the world’s most and least livable cities.

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Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Pandemic restrictions changed the livability of many urban centers worldwide as cultural sites were shuttered, restaurant dining was restricted, and local economies faced the consequences. But as cities worldwide return to the status quo, many of these urban centers have become desirable places to live yet again.

This map uses annual rankings from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to show the worldโ€™s most livable cities, measuring different categories including: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

A Quick Note on Methodology

The ranking attempts to assess which cities across the globe provide the best living conditions, by assigning a score on 30 quantitative and qualitative measures across the five categories with the following weightings:

  1. Healthcare (20%)
  2. Culture & Environment (25%)
  3. Stability (25%)
  4. Education (10%)
  5. Infrastructure (20%)

Of the 30 factors within these categories, the qualitative ones are assigned as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, or intolerable by a team of expert analysts. Quantitative measures are given a score based on a number of external data points. Everything is then weighted to provide a score between 1-100, with 100 being the ideal.

Ranked: The 10 Most Livable Cities

Of the 172 cities included in the rankings, many of the most livable cities can be found in Europe. However, three of the top 10 are located in Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Vienna has been ranked number one many times, most recently in 2019. According to the EIU, the Austrian capital only fell out of the top slot during the pandemic years because its famous museums and restaurants were shuttered.

RankCityCountryScore
#1Vienna๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria99.1
#2Copenhagen๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Denmark98.0
#3Zurich๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland96.3
#3Calgary๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada96.3
#5Vancouver๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada96.1
#6Geneva๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ Switzerland95.9
#7Frankfurt๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany95.7
#8Toronto๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada95.4
#9Amsterdam๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands95.3
#10Osaka๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan95.1
#10Melbourne๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia95.1

Only one Asian city, Osaka, makes the top 10 list, tying with Melbourne for 10th place.ย Notably, not a single U.S. city is found in the top ranks.

Editor’s note: Two cities tie for both the #3 and #10 ranks, meaning that the “top 10” list actually includes 12 cities.

Ranked: The 10 Least Livable Cities

Some of the least livable cities in the world are located across Africa and Central Asia.

RankCityCountryScore
#163Tehran๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท Iran44.0
#164Douala๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฒ Cameroon43.3
#165Harare๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ผ Zimbabwe40.9
#166Dhaka๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฉ Bangladesh39.2
#167Port Moresby๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฌ Papua New Guinea 38.8
#168Karachi๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ฐ Pakistan37.5
#169Algiers๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Algeria37.0
#170Tripoli๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡พ Libya34.2
#171Lagos๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Nigeria32.2
#172Damascus๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡พ Syria30.7

Many of the least livable cities are within conflict zones, contributing to the low ratings. However, these regions are also home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities, presenting many opportunities for ambitious residents.

The Biggest Changes in Ranking

Let’s take a look at the cities that moved up the global rankings most dramatically compared to last year’s data.

Moving Up: The 10 Most Improved Cities

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Frankfurt๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany#7+32
Hamburg๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany#16+31
Dusseldorf๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany#22+28
London๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง UK#33+27
Manchester๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง UK#28+26
Paris๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France#19+23
Brussels๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium#24+22
Amsterdam๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Netherlands#9+21
Athens๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ท Greece#73+19
Los Angeles๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ US#37+18

Hereโ€™s a look at the cities that fell the most in the rankings since last yearโ€™s report.

Moving Down: The 10 Cities That Tumbled

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Wellington๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand#50-46
Auckland๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ New Zealand#34-33
Adelaide๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia#30-27
Perth๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia#32-26
Houston๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ US#56-25
Reykjavik๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ธ Iceland#48-25
Madrid๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain#43-24
Taipei๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ Taiwan#53-20
Barcelona๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain#35-19
Brisbane๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia#27-17

According to the report, a number of cities in New Zealand and Australia temporarily dropped in the ranking due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that some Eastern European cities moved down in the rankings because of their close proximity to the war in Ukraine. Finally, Kyiv was not included in this year’s report because of the conflict.

Urbanization and Livability

As of 2021, around 57% of the worldโ€™s population lives in urban centers and projections show that people worldwide will continue to move into cities.

While there are more amenities in urban areas, the pandemic revealed many issues with urbanization and the concentration of large populations. The stress on healthcare systems is felt most intensely in cities and restrictions on public outings are some of the first measures to be introduced in the face of a global health crisis.

Now with the cost of living rising, cities may face pressures on their quality of life, and governments may be forced to cut spending on public services. Regardless, people worldwide continue to see the benefits of city livingโ€”it’s projected that over two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

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Demographics

Mapped: A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

This map shows which counties in the U.S. have seen the most growth, and which places have seen their populations dwindle in the last 10 years.

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A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties

There are a number of factors that determine how much a region’s population changes.

If an area sees a high number of migrants, along with a strong birth rate and low death rate, then its population is bound to increase over time. On the flip side, if more people are leaving the area than coming in, and the region’s birth rate is low, then its population will likely decline.

Which areas in the United States are seeing the most growth, and which places are seeing their populations dwindle?

This map, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows a decade of population movement across U.S. counties, painting a detailed picture of U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020.

Counties With The Biggest Population Growth from 2010-2020

To calculate population estimates for each county, the U.S. Census Bureau does the following calculations:

A county’s base population โ†’ plus births โ†’ minus deaths โ†’ plus migration = new population estimate

 
From 2010 to 2020, Maricopa County in Arizona saw the highest increase in its population estimate. Over a decade, the county gained 753,898 residents. Below are the counties that saw the biggest increases in population:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010โ€“2020)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenix, ScottsdaleArizona+753,898
#2Harris CountyHoustonTexas+630,711
#3Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+363,323
#4King CountySeattleWashington+335,884
#5Tarrant CountyFort Worth, ArlingtonTexas+305,180
#6Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+303,982
#7Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+287,626
#8Collin CountyPlanoTexas+284,967
#9Travis CountyAustinTexas+270,111
#10Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+264,446

Phoenix and surrounding areas grew faster than any other major city in the country. The region’s sunny climate and amenities are popular with retirees, but another draw is housing affordability. Families from more expensive marketsโ€”California in particularโ€”are moving to the city in droves. This is a trend that spilled over into the pandemic era as more people moved into remote and hybrid work situations.

Texas counties saw a lot of growth as well, with five of the top 10 gainers located in the state of Texas. A big draw for Texas is its relatively affordable housing market. In 2021, average home prices in the state stood at $172,500โ€”$53,310 below the national average.

Counties With The Biggest Population Drops from 2010-2020

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here’s a look at the top 10 counties that saw the biggest declines in their populations over the decade:

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2010โ€“2020)
#1Cook CountyChicagoIllinois-90,693
#2Wayne CountyDetroitMichigan-74,224
#3Cuyahoga CountyClevelandOhio-50,220
#4Genesee CountyFlintMichigan-20,165
#5Suffolk CountyLong IslandNew York-20,064
#6Caddo ParishShreveportLouisiana-18,173
#7Westmoreland CountyMurrysvillePennsylvania-17,942
#8Hinds CountyJacksonMississippi-17,751
#9Kanawha CountyCharlestonWest Virginia-16,672
#10Cambria CountyJohnstownPennsylvania-14,786

The largest drops happened in counties along the Great Lakes, including Cook County (which includes the city of Chicago) and Wayne County (which includes the city of Detroit).

For many of these counties, particularly those in America’s “Rust Belt”, population drops over this period were a continuation of decades-long trends. Wayne County is an extreme example of this trend. From 1970 to 2020, the area lost one-third of its population.

U.S. Population Growth in Percentage Terms (2010-2020)

While the map above is great at showing where the greatest number of Americans migrated, it downplays big changes in counties with smaller populations.

For example, McKenzie County in North Dakota, with a 2020 population of just 15,242, was the fastest-growing U.S. county over the past decade. The county’s 138% increase was driven primarily by the Bakken oil boom in the area. High-growth counties in Texas also grew as new sources of energy were extracted in rural areas.

The nation’s counties are evenly divided between population increase and decline, and clear patterns emerge.

population changes in u.s. counties (%)

Pandemic Population Changes

More recent population changes reflect longer-term trends. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the counties that saw the strongest population increases were located in high-growth states like Florida and Texas.

Below are the 20 counties that grew the most from 2020 to 2021.

RankCountyPoint of ReferenceStatePop. Growth (2020โ€“2021)
#1Maricopa CountyPhoenixArizona+58,246
#2Collin CountyPlanoTexas+36,313
#3Riverside CountyRiverside, Palm SpringsCalifornia+35,631
#4Fort Bend CountySugar LandTexas+29,895
#5Williamson CountyGeorgetownTexas+27,760
#6Denton CountyDentonTexas+27,747
#7Polk CountyLakelandFlorida+24,287
#8Montgomery CountyThe WoodlandsTexas+23,948
#9Lee CountyFort MyersFlorida+23,297
#10Utah CountyProvoUtah+21,843
#11Pinal CountySan Tan ValleyArizona+19,974
#12Clark CountyLas VegasNevada+19,090
#13Pasco CountyNew Port RicheyFlorida+18,322
#14Wake CountyRaleighNorth Carolina+16,651
#15St. Johns CountySt. AugustineFlorida+15,550
#16Hillsborough CountyTampaFlorida+14,814
#17Bexar CountySan AntonioTexas+14,184
#18Ada CountyBoiseIdaho+13,947
#19Osceola CountyKissimmeeFlorida+12,427
#20St. Lucie CountyFort PierceFlorida+12,304

Many of these counties are located next to large cities, reflecting a shift to the suburbs and larger living spaces. However, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, and the pandemic housing boom tapers off due to rising interest rates, it remains to be seen whether the suburban shift will continue, or if people begin to migrate back to city centers.

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