Visualizing 200 Years of U.S. Population Density
At the moment, there are around 326 million people living in the United States, a country that’s 3.5 million square miles (9.8 million sq km) in land area.
But throughout the nation’s history, neither of these numbers have stayed constant.
Not only did the population boom as a result of births and immigrants, but the borders of the country kept changing as well – especially in the country’s early years as settlers moved westwards.
U.S. Population Density Over Time
From a big picture perspective, here is how population density has changed for the country as a whole over the last 200 years or so:[table “404” not found /]
But today’s animated map, which comes to us from Vivid Maps, takes things a step further.
It plots U.S. population density numbers over the time period of 1790-2010 based on U.S. Census data and Jonathan Schroeder’s county-level decadal estimates for population. In essence, it gives a more precise view of who moved where and when over the course of the nation’s history.
Note: While U.S. Census data is granular and dates back to 1790, it comes with certain limitations. One obvious drawback, for example, is that such data is not able to properly account for Native American populations.
“Go West, Young Man”
As you might notice in the animation, there is one anomaly that appears in the late-1800s: the area around modern-day Oklahoma is colored in, but the state itself is an “empty gap” on the map.
The reason for this? The area was originally designated as Indian Territory – land reserved for the forced re-settlement of Native Americans. However, in 1889, the land was opened up to a massive land rush, and approximately 50,000 pioneers lined up to grab a piece of the two million acres (8,000 km²) opened for settlement.
While settlers flocking to Oklahoma is one specific event that ties into this animation, really the map shows the history of a much broader land rush in general: Manifest Destiny.
You can see pioneers landing in Louisiana in the early 1800s, the first settlements in California and Oregon, and the gradual filling up of the states in the middle of the country.
By the mid-20th century, the distribution of the population starts to resemble that of modern America.
Population Density Today
The average population density in the U.S. is now 92 people per square mile, although this changes dramatically based on where you are located:
If you are in Alaska, the state with the lowest population density, there is just one person per square mile – but if you’re in New York City there are 27,000 people per square mile, the highest of any major city in the country.
Mapped: The World Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations
This simple map visualization will change how you think about global population, and how people are distributed throughout the planet.
World Map: Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations
View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here
At the most basic level, a standard world map tells us almost nothing about human population.
While the borders on a map may give us an idea of political boundaries or even aspects of continental geography, in reality they have little to do with showing population density.
That said, it is possible to apply one simple alteration to the world map so that we can make it more interesting from a population perspective – and it turns out that doing so can help us gain insight on where regional population density is the greatest.
Splitting Up the Map
Today’s map comes from Reddit user /u/OrneryThroat and it breaks up the world by grouping countries into four equally populated regions.
While both simple and crude, this mechanism does have some profound results:
|North America, South America, and West/Central Africa||1.9 billion|
|Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia||1.9 billion|
|South Asia||1.9 billion|
|Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania||1.9 billion|
More specifically, there is one area that stands out from a visual standpoint, and it resides clearly in the southern portion of Asia.
Home to 1.34 billion people, it’s well-known that India already holds roughly 20% of the global population – but add Pakistan (195 million) and Bangladesh (165 million) into the mix, and you’re already closing in on one quarter of the global total.
Meanwhile, to get to a similar number, you’d need to add the entire populations of North America, South America, Europe, and Oceania together to even come close.
Shown Another Way
While splitting it into four equal portions is one way to transform the world map, here is another geometric route to conveying a similar idea about the world’s population density:
On a previous Chart of the Week, we showed that 22 of the world’s 37 megacities are located in the small circle above, putting into perspective the region’s population density in a similar but different way.
These simple transformations of the world map are not only memorable, but they also give our brain an easy heuristic to better understand the planet we live on.
The World Population Pyramid (1950-2100)
The world is in the midst of a notable demographic transition. Here’s how the world population pyramid will change as we close in on the year 2100.
The world is in the midst of a notable period of demographic transition.
Back in the 1960s, global population growth peaked at a 2.1% annual rate, but since then it has been on a historic downtrend.
In fact, according to the most commonly cited United Nations projection, which is based on a medium fertility rate scenario, it’s expected that annual population growth could drop all the way to 0.1% by the end of the 21st century.
Visualizing a Demographic Transition
Today’s powerful charts come from Our World in Data by economist Max Roser, and they show how global demographics will shift over the next 80 years.
Below you can see one major catalyst of this change, which is the peaking (and then falling) population growth rate:
Why has population growth been dropping since the 1960s?
A variety of explanations factor into this, including:
- Falling fertility rates:
Birth rates tend to fall as nations get richer. First, this happened in the developed world, but as the century progresses this phenomenon will impact more and more developing nations.
- Government policy:
China’s “One Child Policy” in particular had an effect on global population growth, and the aftermath of the policy is still contributing to a shrinking Chinese population over the long term.
- Rural flight
Urban dwellers tend to have fewer babies – and by 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities globally.
Fewer births combined with improving healthcare – especially in developing nations – will dramatically alter the composition of the world population pyramid, creating both economic opportunities and challenges in the process.
The Changing World Population Pyramid
The following graphic charts how these changes affect the makeup of the world’s population.
Over time, the shape of the world population pyramid is expected to shift from Stage 1 (high birth rates, high death rates) to something closer to Stage 4 (low birth rates, low death rates).
As the population distribution skews older, here is how population size and global median age will change:
|Year||Global Population Size||Median Age|
|1950||2.6 billion||23.6 years|
|2018||7.6 billion||30.0 years|
|2050||9.7 billion||36.1 years|
|2075||10.7 billion||39.0 years|
|2100||11.2 billion||41.6 years|
Dates past 2018 are projections by the United Nations
Global median age is projected to surpass 40 years by the end of the century, and it will be considerably higher in many Western nations, especially in Japan and Europe.
With the future demographic composition looking very different than today, it will be fascinating to see how the economy responds to these potential tailwinds. Further, it will be even more interesting to see what role automation will play as the old-age dependency ratio hits historic highs.
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