Criticism of United States Regional Maps

The textbook Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts, defines a geographic region as a combination of “cultural, economic, historical, political, and appropriate environmental features”. The United States regional map created using the data from the State Similarity Index, also defines regions by considering a multitude of different factors, including demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and physical geography. Unlike most regional maps created in the past, which have been defined by geographers based on their own finite knowledge and biases, the State Similarity Index is a more rigorous, statistically based approach to this extremely complicated task. It is worthwhile to look at how the Index’s map compares to ten other regional maps of the United States. Examining the differences between these maps and the State Similarity Index, can help find where there might be mistakes in these maps, as well as faults in the Index’s map as well. The following 10 maps were compared against the Index:



The Northeast Region of the United States is one of the most well defined regions of the country. The most controversial inclusions are Delaware and Maryland. Still, only three of the ten maps grouped them with the Southeast Region. The data from the State Similarity Index supports the inclusion of these states into the Northeast Region. Despite being states where slavery and racial segregation were once allowed, like states in the Southeast, these states have become far more liberal in present times. They are also wealthier and more educated than most states in the Southeast.
The region is further separated into New England and Mid-Atlantic states in four of the ten maps. Interestingly enough, the State Similarity Index suggests a different way to divide these states. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are in one grouping, while the rest of the states are in another grouping. There are a few reasons to support this. Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire are some of the states with the highest percentage of White people in the country, while states with cities in the BosWash megalopolis are far more racially diverse. In addition, these states are more rural and far less densely populated. As a result, they have higher rates of gun ownership and fewer restrictions on guns. They are also not as wealthy.


The northern boundary of the South is well defined, but the western border is controversial. In most of the maps, Texas and Oklahoma are not included. Instead, they are often grouped in with Arizona and New Mexico. According to the data from the State Similarity Index, Arizona and New Mexico are far less similar to Texas and Oklahoma than most Southern states. So it seems like this is a big mistake by geographers.
The region is sometimes separated into states that border the Atlantic Ocean and states that do not. The data from the State Similarity Index suggests that this region does not have a huge amount of variation, with the exception of Texas and Florida, which have their own unique traits. Texas has a drier climate and a much greater Mexican influence. Florida has a more tropical climate and a steady influx of people from the Northeast relocating to the state.


The Midwest may be the most well defined region of the United States. However, the State Similarity Index does deviate slightly from conventional definitions. The first difference is that the data suggests that Missouri should be grouped with the Southeast instead of the Midwest. What makes Missouri stand out is that it used to allow slavery and racial segregation. No other state commonly defined as in the Midwest allowed it. Its people tend to be more religious than the other states in this region. It is also the only state in the Midwest with a higher percentage of Baptists than Catholics. Certainly the state has traits of both the Midwest and the Southeast, so it is appropriate to split the state in half.
Another difference is that the State Similarity Index groups Pennsylvania in with the Midwest, since the data shows that it has a strong similarity to states that also border the Great Lakes. This region is also known as the Rust Belt. Manufacturing was one of the lifebloods of their economies before many industries were outsourced. In addition, these states have more people with German ancestry and fewer people with Italian ancestry than the Northeast Region. Like Missouri, since this state has traits of two different regions, the state is split between Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Pennsylvania.
In a few maps, the Midwest region is further divided into the Eastern and Western Midwest. The State Similarity Index also recognizes there is a significant difference between states that border the Great Lakes in the Midwest and more rural, landlocked states located in the Great Plains.


The West is probably the least well defined region of the United States. Often it is broken up into several different regions, with it commonly divided into the Southwest, Pacific Coast, and Rocky Mountain regions. However, there is some controversy over the exact states that form them.
Most sources define the Southwest as Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The data from the State Similarity Index suggests that Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada is a better grouping. These states are all landlocked, sparsely populated, and have little farmland since their climates are extremely dry. Furthermore, they also have a high percentage of Latinos. Unlike Oklahoma and Texas, little extraction of oil and natural gas is done in these states as well.
The data also suggests that Washington, Oregon, and California also form a region along the Pacific Coast, despite California having a warmer climate and a far higher population of Latinos than the Pacific Northwest. These states are quite similar politically, since they tend to be very liberal and heavily favor Democrats. A relatively high percentage of their people are union members and their minimum wages are significantly higher than the national minimum.


Alaska is often grouped in with states in the West region. While the State Similarity Index agrees that the most similar region to Alaska is the West, especially the Rocky Mountain sub-region, it is still far different from any other state as well. Alaska is different enough from the rest of the other states to constitute being its own region unto itself. Despite only being one state, its territory is much bigger than the Northeast Region of the country. Not only is Alaska not contiguous with the rest of the country, it also has a far colder climate. As a result, it is the least densely populated state as well. Moreover, it has the highest percentage of Native Americans in the country.


Hawaii is yet another state that is often grouped in with states in the West region. Like Alaska, it is different enough from the rest of the other states to constitute being its own region unto itself. In fact, the state is around four times further away from the mainland as Alaska. Still, data from the State Similarity Index suggests the most similar states also border the Pacific Coast. Hawaii tropical climate and unique flora is far different from most states. In addition, the majority of its people have either East Asian or Native Hawaiian ancestry.

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