The United States is one country, but within its borders some states are far different from others. Their demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography can vary greatly. However, among these different aspects, which pairs of states are the least similar?
One way to answer this difficult question is by analyzing the data from the State Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics. An analysis of the data gives the following suggestions for what pairs of states have the least similar aspects in regards to demographics, culture, government, infrastructure, and geography.
Demographics: Hawaii & Mississippi
The pair of states with the least similar demographics are Hawaii and Mississippi. These states are located over 4,000 miles away from each other. Hawaii is a mountainous archipelago located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, while Mississippi borders the Gulf of Mexico.
A major difference is their racial composition. Hawaii has the highest Asian and Pacific Islander population in the country. Only 25% of its people are White and just 2% are Black. In Hawaii, many people have mixed ancestry, with Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Native Hawaiian being the largest ethnic groups. On the other hand, Mississippi is predominantly White, but it also has the highest percentage of African Americans in the country, with 38%.
Another component of ethnicity is religion. A much higher percentage of the people in Hawaii are Catholic or Buddhist than in Mississippi. Interestingly enough, Mississippi actually has the highest percentage of Protestants in the United States.
The average height and weight of the people in these states differs greatly as well. Hawaii has one of the lowest obesity rates in the country, with only 23.8% of adults being obese. Mississippi, on the other hand, has one of the highest obesity rates at 37.3%. One reason for this is that Hawaiians tend to have an active lifestyle. In addition, Hawaii’s population is also the shortest in the United States. On average, Asians in America tend to be shorter than Whites and Blacks.
Education and income levels are also vastly different in Hawaii and Mississippi. Hawaii has a highly educated population, with 35.3% of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income in Hawaii is $83,102. In contrast, Mississippi has one of the lowest rates of educational attainment, with only 24.8% of adults holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median household income in Mississippi is $47,754.
Marital status is also a factor that contributes to demographic differences between these two states. Hawaii has a significantly higher percentage of married people than Mississippi. In fact, Mississippi has one of the lowest rates of marriage in the country. The state also has a higher percentage of divorced people.
Culture: Massachusetts & Oklahoma
Few states can rival the stark contrast in culture between Massachusetts and Oklahoma. Massachusetts was home to many of the earliest British colonies in North America, dating back to the 1620. Later many immigrants from Europe, especially from Ireland and Italy, settled in the state, giving it its unique character. Oklahoma was one of the last states to join the United States, in 1907. Its territory was originally set aside by the US government in the 1830s as a place to relocate Native American tribes who were forced to leave their ancestral lands. However, the state is predominately White now.
Massachusetts has a history of religious tolerance and intellectualism. Nowadays it is one of the least religious states in the country. A high percentage of its people are atheists. 45% of its population seldom or never attend religious services. Unlike the vast majority of states, Catholics outnumber Protestants in Massachusetts. Oklahoma is significantly more religious and few of its people are Catholic. Churches and religious organizations play a vital role in the social fabric of the state. 43% of Oklahomans attend religious services at least once a week.
Language and speech patterns are key indicators of culture, and Massachusetts and Oklahoma differ significantly in this aspect as well. Massachusetts is known for its distinctive accent, commonly referred to as the “Boston accent” or “Eastern New England accent,” characterized by unique vowel sounds and pronunciation patterns. On the other hand, Oklahoma does not have a specific accent that is commonly associated with the state. The state has a more neutral accent that is often considered closer to the “General American” accent.
People in Massachusetts tend to drink significantly more alcohol than people in Oklahoma. However, the rate of smoking is much higher in Oklahoma. Furthermore, Oklahoma has a significantly higher rate of suicide, homicide, and incarceration than Massachusetts. A much higher percentage of its people have hunting licenses as well.
Oklahoma and Massachusetts also have different music preferences. In Oklahoma, country music is very popular. The state has produced many famous country music artists, such as Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, and Blake Shelton. Massachusetts has a rich tradition of jazz and folk music. The state is also known for its famous rock bands, such as Aerosmith, the Pixies, and the Cars. The states have different sports preferences as well. People in Massachusetts are more interested in ice hockey and baseball, while Oklahomans are especially interested in college football.
These states have distinct food traditions as well. Due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts is known for its seafood, with dishes such as clam chowder and lobster rolls. Oklahoma’s cuisine is influenced by cowboy culture and cattle ranches. Barbecue is especially popular in the state, with beef brisket and pulled pork being favorites.
Politics: New York & Idaho
Few states can rival the stark contrast in politics between New York and Idaho. This is because New York has a highly diverse, largely urban population, while Idaho is predominantly white with many people living in rural areas. The Democratic Party is much more popular in New York, while the Republican Party is dominant in Idaho.
Since Ronald Reagan, New Yorkers have consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates, while people in Idaho have voted for Republican presidential candidates. In addition, the political composition of their state legislatures and courts is far different, since New York’s has mostly Democrats and Idaho’s has mostly Republicans. The preferences of people in the same political party even differ between these states. In 2016, Ted Cruz was preferred over Donald Trump in Idaho. Furthermore, New York preferred Hillary Clinton twice, while Idaho preferred Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary.
Compared to New York, Idaho has more permissive gun laws. Idaho has constitutional carry laws, which allow individuals to carry concealed firearms without a permit, and has relatively lenient regulations on the sale, possession, and use of firearms. In contrast, New York has more restrictive gun laws, including requirements for permits for both concealed and open carry, and bans on certain types of firearms.
Idaho has strict marijuana laws and does not allow for medical or recreational use of marijuana. Possession of even small amounts is a misdemeanor crime. In contrast, New York has legalized marijuana for recreational use and the sale of marijuana is regulated. In general, Idaho also has more restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Furthermore, Idaho has more restrictive abortion laws, including mandatory waiting periods, parental notification requirements, and limitations on late-term abortions. New York, on the other hand, has more permissive abortion laws that protect the right to choose an abortion and provide greater access to reproductive health services.
New York has more comprehensive LGBTQ+ rights protections compared to Idaho. New York has laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Idaho, on the other hand, has limited legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. Another difference is that marriage to first cousins is legal in New York, unlike in Idaho.
Compared to Idaho, New York has adopted more immigrant-friendly policies . It has policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. The state also provides driver’s licenses and in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants. In contrast, Idaho’s laws require local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Idaho has the death penalty and carries out executions, while New York abolished the death penalty in 2007 and does not have the death penalty as a legal punishment. Judges in New York also have more flexible sentencing guidelines than in Idaho which has many mandatory minimums. In addition, corporal punishment is still allowed in Idaho’s schools, while it is specifically banned in New York.
New York has a much higher minimum wage compared to Idaho. New York has implemented a phased-in approach to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, while Idaho’s minimum wage is nearly half that amount since it is aligned with the federal minimum wage. However, it is important to note that the cost of living is much higher in New York as well. Idaho also has more restrictive eligibility criteria and lower benefit levels for low-income families with children.
In general, Idaho has a lower overall amount of taxation in comparison with New York. However, Idaho’s government also spends far less per capita on its citizens as well. Unlike New York, Idaho has not expanded its Medicaid program, resulting in more limited coverage for low-income individuals and families.
Infrastructure: Massachusetts & Wyoming
Massachusetts is a small, densely populated state in New England, while Wyoming is a vast, sparsely populated state in the Rocky Mountain region. Therefore, in many respects, the infrastructure in Massachusetts is much more developed than in Wyoming.
When it comes to transportation, Wyoming’s vast size and low population density have led to an extremely limited public transit options. Therefore, most people in Wyoming rely on personal vehicles. They have the second most vehicles per capita in the United States. Massachusetts, on the other hand, has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses, subways, and commuter rail lines. While many people in Massachusetts use Amtrak, there are no Amtrak stops in Wyoming.
Since Wyoming is home to many energy intensive mining industries, despite its small population, the state consumes far more energy per capita than Massachusetts. Wyoming is the largest coal-producing state in the country, and coal generates most of the state’s electricity. Most of the power in Massachusetts is created by using natural gas. The state has set a goal of having at least 40% of its electricity generation come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
Their water usage is also vastly different. Wyoming has a lot of farms that rely on irrigation, since the state has a relatively dry climate. In addition, water is used in the coal mining process to cool and lubricate equipment, as well as to wash coal and remove impurities. Massachusetts uses far less water per capita.
Wyoming’s mining and extraction industries are a significant part of the state’s economy. The state is home to several large coal, trona, and uranium mines. In contrast, Massachusetts has no active mines. However, the state has a much greater manufacturing output than Wyoming. The state produces a lot of medical devices and equipment.
Their buildings are different as well. Nearly 15% of people in Wyoming live in mobile homes. In Massachusetts, just 52% of people live in single family homes with only 1% living in mobile homes. Furthermore, the houses in Massachusetts tend to be older on average than those in Wyoming. Another difference is that there are no skyscrapers in Wyoming, but Boston has more than 25.
In terms of emergency services, Massachusetts has more professional firefighters and a lower percentage of volunteer firefighters than Wyoming. Massachusetts also has better hospitals and significantly more physicians per capita. However, Wyoming has more military personnel per capita, despite only having one air force base.
Geography: Hawaii & North Dakota
Few states can rival the stark contrast in geography between Hawaii and North Dakota. Hawaii is much further south than North Dakota. It is an archipelago located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, while North Dakota is a landlocked state that borders Canada. They are not even on the same tectonic plates.
One of the most noticeable differences between Hawaii and North Dakota is their climate. Hawaii has a tropical climate, while North Dakota has a continental climate. The average temperature in Hawaii is around 77°F, while in North Dakota, it is much colder, with an average temperature of around 43°F . Hawaii receives abundant rainfall, with an average precipitation of 63 inches per year, compared to North Dakota, which receives only about 16 inches of precipitation annually.
As a result, the vegetation in Hawaii and North Dakota is also extremely different. Most of Hawaii is covered in lush rainforests that are home to a diverse array of plant species, including many endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. In contrast, North Dakota is known for its vast stretches of grasslands, with agricultural lands dominating the landscape. While Hawaii grows sugarcane and a variety of tropical fruits, North Dakota grows mostly soybean and corn.
Hawaii is known for its volcanic mountains, with Mauna Kea being the tallest mountain in the state, soaring to a height of 13,796 feet above sea level. Hawaii also has a significant amount of elevation variation, with its mountains rising dramatically from the sea level. In contrast, North Dakota is relatively flat, with an average elevation of about 2,000 feet (610 meters) above sea level. The state lacks significant mountain ranges and is characterized by gentle slopes and rolling prairies.
Their population densities are also far different. It has around 219 people per square mile. In contrast, North Dakota has only about 11 people per square mile, so it is among the lowest in the country. Another notable difference between Hawaii and North Dakota is the extent of built-up areas. Hawaii has densely populated urban areas, with cities such as Honolulu and Hilo. In contrast, North Dakota has fewer built-up areas, with small towns scattered across the state.
Overall: Wyoming – New Jersey
While Wyoming is one of the states with the highest percentage of White people, New Jersey is one of the most diverse. It is melting pot of many different races, with significant populations of Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Even their White populations have different origins, since there are many people with Italian ancestry in New Jersey, while Wyoming has far more people with German ancestry. Another difference is that New Jersey has a high percentage of single people, while Wyoming has one of the lowest in the United States.
People from New Jersey tend to have a distinct accent, similar to the accent natively spoken in New York City, while people from Wyoming tend to have an accent similar to the “standard” American accent. Country music is very popular in Wyoming, while Pop and Rock music are more popular in New Jersey. Furthermore, soccer is much more popular in New Jersey than in Wyoming. While New Jersey has extremely low rates of people that own guns or have hunting licenses, Wyoming has some of the highest rates in both these respects. Another difference is that people in New Jersey are known to be temperamental and speak their mind openly, while people in Wyoming are more relaxed and friendly.
Politically, these states are far different as well. The Democratic Party is much more popular in New Jersey, while the Republican Party is more popular in Wyoming. New Jersey has policies more friendly to immigrants. It is a sanctuary state and provides in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Another difference is that New Jersey’s laws are more in favor of unions than Wyoming. Smoking is not banned in public places in Wyoming, unlike in New Jersey. Wyoming does not have an income tax, while New Jersey’s is one of the highest in the United States.
One of the biggest differences between New Jersey and Wyoming is their infrastructure. Since New Jersey is far more densely populated, its road and railroad network is much denser. New Jersey has large seaports, Wyoming, in contrast, is landlocked and has no navigable rivers. New Jersey has many skyscrapers, while Wyoming’s tallest building is less than 50 meters tall. Wyoming uses far more water per capita, in part due to irrigation for agricultural land. Their energy sources are different as well. Coal power plants make most of the electricity in Wyoming. New Jersey uses a mix of natural gas and nuclear power. A far higher percentage of people in New Jersey do not own cars and instead rely on public transportation.
New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the United States, since it is located between New York City and Philadelphia. The only state more sparsely populated than Wyoming is Alaska. Wyoming’s climate is also much drier than New Jersey. As a result, Wyoming is mostly grassland, while New Jersey has more forested area. New Jersey is well known for its beaches, in contrast Wyoming is double landlocked. The Rocky Mountains run through Wyoming, so its terrain is much more mountainous than New Jersey’s as well.