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.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
At the start of the 19th century, less than 1% of humanity lived under democratic rule. See how systems of government have changed over the last 200 years.
Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government
Centuries ago, most of our ancestors were living under a different political paradigm.
Although democracy was starting to show signs of growth in some parts of the world, it was more of an idea, rather than an established or accepted system of government.
Even at the start of the 19th century, for example, it’s estimated that the vast majority of the global population — roughly 84% of all people — still lived under in autocratic regimes or colonies that lacked the authority to self-govern their own affairs.
The Evolution of Rule
Today’s set of charts look at global governance, and how it’s evolved over the last two centuries of human history.
Leveraging data from the widely-used Polity IV data set on political regimes, as well as the work done by economist Max Roser through Our World in Data, we’ve plotted an empirical view of how people are governed.
Specifically, our charts break down the global population by how they are governed (in absolute terms), as well as by the relative share of population living under those same systems of government (percentage terms).
Classifying Systems of Government
The Polity IV data series defines a state’s level of democracy by ranking it on several metrics, such as competitive and open elections, political participation, and checks on authority.
Polity scores are on a -10 to +10 scale, where the lower end (-10 to -6) corresponds with autocracies and the upper end (+6 to +10) corresponds to democracies. Below are five types of government that can be derived from the scale, and that are shown in the visualization.
A territory under the political control of another country, and/or occupied by settlers from that country.
Examples: 🇬🇮 Gibraltar, 🇬🇺 Guam, 🇵🇫 French Polynesia
A single person (the autocrat) possesses supreme and absolute power.
Examples: 🇨🇳 China, 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia, 🇰🇵 North Korea
- Closed Anocracy
An anocracy is loosely defined as a regime that mixes democratic and autocratic features. In a closed anocracy, political competitors are drawn only from an elite and well-connected pool.
Examples: 🇹🇭 Thailand, 🇲🇦 Morocco, 🇸🇬 Singapore
- Open Anocracy
Similar to a closed anocracy, an open anocracy draws political competitors from beyond elite groups.
Examples: 🇷🇺 Russia, 🇲🇾 Malaysia, 🇧🇩 Bangladesh
Citizens exercise power by voting for their leaders in elections.
Examples: 🇺🇸 United States, 🇩🇪 Germany, 🇮🇳 India
A Long-Term Trend in Question
In the early 19th century, less than 1% of the global population could be found in democracies.
In more recent decades, however, the dominoes have fallen — and today, it’s estimated that 56% of the world population lives in societies that can be considered democratic, at least according to the Polity IV data series highlighted above.
While there are questions regarding a recent decline in freedom around the world, it’s worth considering that democratic governance is still a relatively new tradition within a much broader historical context.
Will the long-term trend of democracy prevail, or are the more recent indications of populism a sign of reversion?
Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
Few global trends have matched the profound impact of urbanization. Today’s map looks back at 70 years of movement in over 1,800 cities.
The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)
In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.
A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.
Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?
Out of the Farms and Into the Cities
The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.
Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.
Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.
The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots
Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.
Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.
Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.
It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.
Urbanization and its Complications
Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.
Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.
As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.
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