The study of demographics is the gathering and analysis of the statistical data relating to a given population. In the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau is without question the most useful resource for information about American demography. From its home page, you can access the current population of the nation and the world, updated several times per minute; find the population of any city; and access statistical information relating to U.S. economics, households, business, and geography. Using the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this guide gives a brief overview of American demographic history, current statistics, and expected trends.
Demographic History of the United States
Many early U.S. historical resources rely on accounts written by colonists, and it can be difficult to assess their accuracy. The first recorded population statistics of the United States are invariably skewed as they reflect only the demographics of the British colonies in America, and do not include the pre-existing Native American population. Therefore, we must rely on the estimated European population of the U.S., which states that in 1620, a mere 500 European settlers lived in the colonies of Virgina and Plymouth. By 1640, that number was around 26,000 people, who had established colonies throughout most of New England. In 1700, more than 250,000 Europeans had settled in the U.S., and by 1760, on the fringe of the American War for Independence, more than 1.5 million people had spread to 14 colonies.
Accurate information from 1790 onwards is provided at the History: Fast Facts portion of the Census Bureau website. The 1790 census revealed that there were nearly 4 million Americans, a number that increased substantially when immigration officials began to keep federal records after 1820. In the 1830s, large amounts of Europeans immigrated to America, notably the Irish, Germans, British, and French. Immigration positively exploded in the next decade, cementing America’s reputation as the world’s melting pot: 7.2 million people made the U.S. their home, driven to immigrate by the poor harvests and failed revolutions of Europe.
In the mid-19th century, almost the entire U.S. population was concentrated on the east coast. However, the acquisition of U.S. territory in the west and the California Gold Rush of 1849 spurred significant immigration and westward migration within the states. By 1880, approximately a century after American Independence, more than 50 million people were spread across the plains states and into the west. Following the Civil War, a great number of newly-freed African Americans migrated north.
In 1920, the post-WWI population of the U.S. topped 100 million. By the end of the second World War, the aptly-named Baby Boom resulted in a sharp rise in U.S. population, which reached 151 million by 1950. Population growth has slowed since the 1960s, but as of 2010, the U.S. population topped 308 million: the third most populous nation in the world.
Current U.S. Demographics
Population distribution in the U.S. is best understood through this 2010 Interactive Population Map from the Census Bureau. Some important statistics reveal that in 2010, of the nation’s 308 million people:
- The most populous states are California, Illinois, Texas, New York, and Florida
- 82% of people live in urban areas
- There are about 4 million more women than men
- 27% of people are under 20; 13% are older than 65; the median age is 36
- The birth rate has dropped to 13.5/1000 people, the lowest in a century; the fertility rate for women is 2.06 children/women
- Male life expectancy is 75.65 years; female life expectancy is 80.69 years
- Racial demographics state that Whites are the racial majority (66%), followed by Hispanic/Latino (15%), Black/African American (13%), Asian (4.5%), and multiracial (2.3%), with American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Pacific Islanders each making up less than 1% of the population. Percentage disparity is accounted for by the fact that some people identify themselves by more than one race.
- 13% of the population is foreign-born
- Unemployment rate is 9.2%
According to Census Bureau projections, immigrants and their U.S.-born descendants are expected to account for the majority of population growth. The United Nations Population Division projects the U.S. population to increase to 402 million by 2050, whereas the Census Bureau expects a number closer to 450 million. Regardless, this continued population growth differs from the trends of most other industrialized nations like South Korea, Germany, and Russia, whose populations are slowly declining.
- American Factfinder allows you to search for statistical data according to population groups and geography and to create a map or table based on your findings. See the Fact finder Tutorial before using.
- Various Data Access Tools can help you interpret federal, state, and local statistical demographic data.
- Random Samplings: the official blog of the U.S. Census Bureau.
- Statistical Abstract “is the authoritative and comprehensive summary of statistics on the social, political, and economic organization of the United States,” made available to the public by the U.S. Census Bureau.
- The CIA World Factbook provides reliable statistical data relating to history, culture, and population of each different country in the world.
- USA.gov is a simple, comprehensive resource for all things relating to the U.S. government. Find convenient information about consumer guides, jobs and education opportunities, public safety, and more.
- FedStats compiled an index of kid’s pages from various government websites to help children understand government data.
- Put all this statistical data into historical context with this timeline of U.S. history.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons