Variance in Population Density by US State

State Similarity Index rubric, Geography category, Population Density

The State Similarity Index attempts to quantify how similar states are to each other relative to other states. The index is a statistically-based way to measure this. 20% of the index is based on geography. 10% of a state’s geography score (2% of the overall State Similarity Index score) is based on the population density and percentage of urban land in each state.

Population Density

The United States exhibits significant variations in population density across its states. The most densely populated state is New Jersey at 1263 people per square mile. This densely populated state is situated on the Atlantic Coast, has many urban centers such as Newark, Jersey City, and Trenton contributing to its high population density. New Jersey’s proximity to major cities like New York City and Philadelphia also contribute to its density. On the other hand, the least densely populated state is Alaska, at about 1 person per square mile. It is known for its vast wilderness and remote landscapes. The state’s harsh climate and challenging terrain limit human settlement and infrastructure development. In general, states in the Western portion of the United States are less densely populated.

US Census Bureau

States were categorized by population per square mile:
0-40, 40-80, 80-120, 120-160, 160-200, 200-380, 380-560, 560-740, 740-920, 920-1100, 1100-1280

Urbanized Land

Urban land refers to the areas within a city or town that are predominantly developed for residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional purposes. It encompasses the built-up areas of a settlement, including buildings, roads, infrastructure, and other man-made features. New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have relatively high urban land percentages due to their small land areas and concentrated populations in cities and suburbs. Conversely, states with larger land areas and lower population densities tend to have lower percentages of urban land. States such as Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming have vast expanses of rural and undeveloped land, resulting in lower urban land percentages.

US Department of Agriculture

States were categorized by percentage urban land area:
0-1.5, 1.5-3, 3-4.5, 4.5-6, 6-7.5, 7.5-13, 13-18.5, 18.5-24, 24-29.5, 29.5-35, 35-40.5

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