American states vary in terms of population size, land mass, and population density. Although a state may rank high in total land mass, it could rank low in population estimates for a variety of reasons. The economy plays a large role in a state's population estimate and ranking, as certain states attract people to their cities based on job and living opportunities. The landscape of a state also plays a major role in the differences between total land mass and population size.
Some places, such as Washington D.C., play a large role in our nation's history and attract millions of visitors annually. Suburbs tend to have higher population densities due to their proximity to major metropolitan areas—without the high cost of living associated with city dwelling. History plays a large role in the cultural distribution of each state's population. Louisiana, for example, has a multicultural heritage due to the different groups of people who have claimed power over the state throughout its history. New Mexico has the highest population of Native Americans in the United States and is home to many Native American reservations.
Researchers at Stacker analyzed population and housing unit datasets and state population totals datasets from the Census Bureau, which were updated in July 2018. The Census Bureau's 2018 population estimates determined the rankings of the states in the list, which includes all 50 states and Washington D.C. Total land area was calculated by subtracting total water area from total area.
Read on to learn about the rankings of the biggest states in America.
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- Population estimate: 577,737
- Population density: 6 residents/square mile (#50)
- Total land mass: 97,093 sq. mi. (#9)
Although Wyoming is the ninth largest state by area, it is one of the most sparsely populated states in the country. Wyoming is home to many natural landforms, specifically its mountain ranges within the otherwise flat state. Yellowstone National Park, the first designated national park in the world, is located in this state.
- Population estimate: 626,299
- Population density: 68 residents/square mile (#32)
- Total land mass: 9,217 sq. mi. (#43)
Vermont is one of the smallest states based on both population and area. Despite its small size, Vermont played a large role in shaping the United States' history. The Battle of Bennington, fought on Aug. 16, 1777, marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War and is to this day celebrated as a holiday throughout the state. Over the past few decades, Vermont's population has fluctuated year-to-year, with some years seeing an increase in Vermont births, and other years seeing an increase in people moving to other states.
- Population estimate: 702,455
- Population density: 11,377 residents/square mile (#1)
- Total land mass: 61 sq. mi. (#51)
As the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. is viewed as an extremely important world political capital and is one of the most visited cities in the world. The District of Columbia is home to many historical sites, such as the Washington Monument and the White House, which draw over 20 million tourists annually. Besides the tourists, the district houses many influential and important political officials and families, maintaining a fairly high population estimate.
- Population estimate: 737,438
- Population density: 1 residents/square mile (#51)
- Total land mass: 570,641 sq. mi. (#1)
The U.S. purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in March 1867, and it officially became the 49th state on Jan. 3, 1959. Alaska used to be populated mainly by indigenous people, but during the gold rushes in the late 1890s, thousands of American miners relocated themselves and their families to this territory. The population has slowly been increasing. However, as the largest U.S. state by area, Alaska remains one of the most sparsely populated places in the world.
- Population estimate: 760,077
- Population density: 11 residents/square mile (#47)
- Total land mass: 69,001 sq. mi. (#17)
During the 21st century, North Dakota's population and unemployment rate drastically shifted. Natural resources, specifically oil found in the Bakken formation, drove population growth and reduced unemployment rates in the state. Other than oil, North Dakota is known for its hilly landscape as part of the Great Plains and the northern part of the Badlands, thus making this state the fourth most sparsely populated U.S. state and the 19th largest by area.
- Population estimate: 882,235
- Population density: 11 residents/square mile (#47)
- Total land mass: 75,811 sq. mi. (#16)
South Dakota is known for its farming culture thanks to the rich soil that grows many of our country's crops. Thus, this state is more land heavy than population heavy. South Dakota is home to the famous Mount Rushmore site and is a major tourist attraction. Throughout the years, South Dakota's population has fluctuated, seeing an increase due to the gold rush and decreases as people migrated out of the state. Recently, the population has been rising steadily for the past few decades.
- Population estimate: 967,171
- Population density: 494 residents/square mile (#7)
- Total land mass: 1,949 sq. mi. (#49)
Delaware, also known as “The First State,” was the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States. It is one of the most densely populated U.S. states, given that it is the second smallest state. Delaware saw massive population growth of 40% from 1950 to 1960 and has maintained a steady population growth over the years.
- Population estimate: 1.06 million
- Population density: 1,025 residents/square mile (#3)
- Total land mass: 1,034 sq. mi. (#50)
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union. However, it has the longest name of any state—its official title is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The Colony of Rhode Island was the first to renounce its allegiance to England in May 1776. Over half of the population is between 18 and 65, which may be a result of the many colleges and universities found in this state.
- Population estimate: 1.06 million
- Population density: 7 residents/square mile (#49)
- Total land mass: 145,546 sq. mi. (#4)
Montana is split in half in terms of landscape. The western part of the state contains numerous mountain ranges, many of which are part of the Rocky Mountains. The eastern half of Montana consists of badlands and Western prairie terrain. Agriculture, such as ranching, is the major economic driving force. Montana is the third least densely populated state and is also becoming a major tourist destination, with about 13 million tourists annually visiting Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and many other locations.
- Population estimate: 1.34 million
- Population density: 43 residents/square mile (#39)
- Total land mass: 30,843 sq. mi. (#39)
Maine became a part of the U.S. as the 23rd state on March 15, 1820 under the Missouri Compromise. It is a major tourist attraction for its coastline, mountains, and seafood cuisine. Originally populated by indigenous people for thousands of years, a French settlement took over in 1604. Three years later, that colony was taken over by the English. Since 1990, Maine has experienced a slow rate of population growth.
- Population estimate: 1.36 million
- Population density: 150 residents/square mile (#22)
- Total land mass: 8,953 sq. mi. (#44)
New Hampshire, although the fifth smallest state by area, is one of the major centers for textile manufacturing, shoemaking, and papermaking. Recently, the center of the population has shifted towards the southern part of the border, which is within commuting distance to Boston. The population is increasing slightly. However, it is mostly condensed at the southern border.
- Population estimate: 1.42 million
- Population density: 222 residents/square mile (#14)
- Total land mass: 6,423 sq. mi. (#47)
Hawaii was the most recent state to join the union, officially joining the U.S. on Aug. 21, 1959. It is the only state where the majority of the population is Asian. After European and mainland Americans visited the islands of Hawaii in the 1700s, the indigenous Hawaiian population declined dramatically. However, during the 19th century, this population began to increase again as there was a large population of Asian settlers who traveled to Hawaii as migrant workers.
- Population estimate: 1.75 million
- Population density: 21 residents/square mile (#45)
- Total land mass: 82,643 sq. mi. (#11)
Idaho is split into multiple distinct regions. The northern part of the state is most closely associated with eastern Washington and even follows a different time zone than the rest of the state. The south includes the Snake River Plain, the Great Basin, and several stretches of the Rocky Mountains. Within the past decade, Idaho has been one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S., seeing massive growths in migration from other others states, as well as immigration from outside the United States.
- Population estimate: 1.81 million
- Population density: 76 residents/square mile (#30)
- Total land mass: 24,038 sq. mi. (#41)
West Virginia joined the union on June 20, 1863 during the American Civil War and was a key border state during this time. This state is known for its logging and coal mining industries, as well as its recreational activities, such as skiing, fishing, and rock climbing. Its population has fluctuated throughout the years and is currently experiencing negative population growth, as many people are migrating out of the state.
- Population estimate: 1.93 million
- Population density: 25 residents/square mile (#44)
- Total land mass: 76,824 sq. mi. (#15)
Before European exploration, Nebraska was home to many indigenous peoples, such as the Omaha and various branches of the Sioux tribe. Many historic trails, such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, crossed through this state. This state has two major regions: the Dissected Till Plains consisting of rolling hills and the two largest cities in Nebraska, Omaha and Lincoln. The other region is the Great Plains, containing treeless prairies.
- Population estimate: 2.1 million
- Population density: 17 residents/square mile (#46)
- Total land mass: 121,298 sq. mi. (#5)
New Mexico was colonized by Spain in 1563. Originally called Nuevo México, it was later admitted into the Union in January 1912. Based on this history, New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanic and Latino Americans and the second highest percentage of Native Americans of any state. New Mexico's cuisine, traditions, and music are reflective of these diverse roots.
- Population estimate: 2.91 million
- Population density: 36 residents/square mile (#42)
- Total land mass: 81,759 sq. mi. (#13)
Kansas is the 13th largest state by area and is one of the most productive agricultural states, producing large amounts of corn, wheat, sorghum, and soybeans. Over the past few years, Kansas has seen a decrease in population in rural areas as labor-efficient grain-based agriculture has increased, as wheat farms only require one or two people to operate large farming machinery rather than vegetable farms that require many people to plant and harvest crops.
- Population estimate: 2.99 million
- Population density: 64 residents/square mile (#33)
- Total land mass: 46,923 sq. mi. (#31)
Thirty-seven percent of Mississippi's population is African-American, the highest percentage of African-Americans in any U.S. state. Prior to the 1930s, this state's population consisted mainly of disenfranchised African-Americans. However, the Great Migration of African-Americans to the north and west saw a large shift in population, specifically a massive decrease in Mississippi's African-American population. Mississippi is largely an agricultural state.
- Population estimate: 3.01 million
- Population density: 58 residents/square mile (#35)
- Total land mass: 52,035 sq. mi. (#27)
Up until the 20th century, Arkansas saw massive growths in population. However, it recorded losses in 1950 and 1960, and has fluctuated in relation to the U.S. population ever since. Many people left Arkansas during this time due to decreased labor demand, farm mechanization, and lack of opportunity within non-farming industries. Now, the capital of Arkansas, Little Rock, is a place of opportunity for business, government, culture, and transportation.
- Population estimate: 3.03 million
- Population density: 27 residents/square mile (#43)
- Total land mass: 109,781 sq. mi. (#7)
Although Nevada is ranked seventh in largest area, a majority of its population lives in Clark County, which is home to the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The majority of the state is desert, as much of it lies within the Great Basin. The Mojave Desert, Lake Tahoe, and the Sierra Nevada are all located in this state. A majority of Nevada's land is managed by the U.S. federal government, both civilian and military.
- Population estimate: 3.16 million
- Population density: 56 residents/square mile (#37)
- Total land mass: 55,857 sq. mi. (#23)
Iowa originally was an agricultural-based economy state located in the middle of the Corn Belt, but during the latter half of the 20th century, it made a major shift. Its economy and career opportunities became more diverse, including businesses in financial services, biotechnology, and green energy production. With this change in its economy, Iowa became a more urban state, causing an increase in population.
- Population estimate: 3.16 million
- Population density: 38 residents/square mile (#41)
- Total land mass: 82,170 sq. mi. (#12)
For the past few years, Utah has been one of the fastest-growing population states, particularly after a 2012 Gallup national survey that found Utah was the best state to live in based on various economics, lifestyle, and health-related data. Utah also has the youngest population of any state, as many young people are migrating to Utah for economic and lifestyle-based opportunities.
- Population estimate: 3.57 million
- Population density: 741 residents/square mile (#5)
- Total land mass: 4,842 sq. mi. (#48)
Connecticut has one of the highest per-capita income and median household incomes in the United States. In the late 1700s, almost the entire state was considered rural. However, as of the 2000 census, only 12% is considered rural. Connecticut is largely associated with New York City, with many people residing in this state and commuting into New York City for work.
- Population estimate: 3.94 million
- Population density: 57 residents/square mile (#36)
- Total land mass: 68,595 sq. mi. (#19)
A majority of Oklahoma's population can be found in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the two metropolitan statistical areas in this state. Although Oklahoma is a major producer of natural gas, oil, and agricultural products, its metropolitan economies are centered around energy, telecommunications, and biotechnology. Oklahoma has one of the highest populations of Native Americans in the U.S.
- Population estimate: 4.19 million
- Population density: 43 residents/square mile (#39)
- Total land mass: 95,988 sq. mi. (#10)
Oregon was named the United States' “Top Moving Destination” in 2014, as this state saw an influx twice the size of those moving out of the state. With major technology companies establishing offices in Oregon, many people began migrating to this state for economic and business opportunities.
- Population estimate: 4.47 million
- Population density: 113 residents/square mile (#23)
- Total land mass: 39,486 sq. mi. (#37)
Kentucky's total population has experienced growth every decade since records have been kept. However, rural areas have experienced large decreases in population while urban areas have seen growth. This state is a major coal and automobile producer and is also a leading producer in whiskey and bourbon. Fort Knox, the United States Army post, is located in this state.
- Population estimate: 4.66 million
- Population density: 108 residents/square mile (#25)
- Total land mass: 43,204 sq. mi. (#33)
Louisiana has an extremely diverse culture, with French, Haitian, Native American, Spanish, and African heritages found throughout the urban centers in this state. Tourism plays a large role in Louisiana's economy, as it hosts many important cultural events annually. It is the 33rd largest state, and most of its population resides in major cities, such as New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport.
- Population estimate: 4.89 million
- Population density: 96 residents/square mile (#28)
- Total land mass: 50,645 sq. mi. (#28)
Alabama's most populous city, Birmingham, is one of the most industrialized cities in the United States. This state has a large population of people of African and British descent, as this state used to be a major slave state. An agricultural state until World War II, Alabama increased in population as their economy became more diverse in industries such as finance, manufacturing, and technology.
- Population estimate: 5.08 million
- Population density: 167 residents/square mile (#20)
- Total land mass: 30,061 sq. mi. (#40)
During the recession, South Carolina's unemployment rate spiked to 12% in late 2009, mainly due to the fact that its economy is rooted in agriculture and tobacco production. Slowly, the unemployment rate has decreased, as many major corporations such as Boeing and Sonoco Products have moved to South Carolina, bringing with them job opportunities and an influx in population.
- Population estimate: 5.61 million
- Population density: 70 residents/square mile (#31)
- Total land mass: 79,627 sq. mi. (#14)
Over half of Minnesota's population resides in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area, also known as the “Twin Cities.” This area is a hub for business, education, and an internationally known arts community. The rest of the state consists of prairies, which have been converted into agricultural land, deciduous forests, and mines.
- Population estimate: 5.7 million
- Population density: 54 residents/square mile (#38)
- Total land mass: 103,642 sq. mi. (#8)
Colorado is nicknamed the “Centennial State” because it was admitted into the union one century after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The capital of this state, Denver, is the most populous city in Colorado. This state has a large proportion of Hispanics, many who reside in the Denver metropolitan area, as a result of early Mexican settlers of colonial Spain. This population has continued to grow throughout the decades.
- Population estimate: 5.81 million
- Population density: 107 residents/square mile (#27)
- Total land mass: 54,158 sq. mi. (#25)
Wisconsin is known as “America's Dairyland” because it is a major dairy producer for the United States. There is a large amount of farmland in this state; and the largest city in Wisconsin is Milwaukee—the fifth largest city in the Midwest. Various ethnic groups have resided in Wisconsin throughout its history, such as the French, the Cornish, Scandinavians, and the Hmongs (from East and Southeast Asia).
- Population estimate: 6.04 million
- Population density: 624 residents/square mile (#6)
- Total land mass: 9,707 sq. mi. (#42)
Maryland played a large role in the history of the United States and holds some of the highest numbers of historic landmarks per capita. This state was a major port during the Industrial Revolution and has seen continuous massive and rapid population growth since World War II. Maryland has the highest median household income, specifically as a result of its proximity to Washington D.C.
- Population estimate: 6.13 million
- Population density: 89 residents/square mile (#29)
- Total land mass: 68,742 sq. mi. (#18)
The largest urban areas in Missouri are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia, accounting for most of the state's more than 6 million residents. The south of this state is known as the Ozarks, which is a forested highland that provides timber and minerals, as well as recreation. Missouri played a large role westward expansion, with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis serving as a landmark for the state's contribution.
- Population estimate: 6.69 million
- Population density: 186 residents/square mile (#17)
- Total land mass: 35,826 sq. mi. (#38)
Indiana has several populous metropolitan areas, most notably the capital and largest city, Indianapolis. Roughly three-quarters of the state's population reside in a metropolitan area. This state hosts many sporting events, such as the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 motorsports races. Motorsports and professional sports play a major role in the culture of this state.
- Population estimate: 6.77 million
- Population density: 163 residents/square mile (#21)
- Total land mass: 41,235 sq. mi. (#34)
Tennessee's major economic industries include manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in the eastern part of the state and is the most visited national park in the United States, drawing in over 10 million visitors annually. Metropolitan Nashville has been experiencing a large influx of people relocating from other, more expensive cities due to its low cost of living and economic opportunities in the health care and automotive industries.
- Population estimate: 6.9 million
- Population density: 879 residents/square mile (#4)
- Total land mass: 7,800 sq. mi. (#45)
Massachusetts is the fourth most densely populated state in the U.S., with a majority of residents living in the Greater Boston area. Populations in this state continue to rise rapidly, due to a high quality of life and extensive higher education institutions. A majority of the population are over 18 years old as a result of the numerous colleges and universities located in Massachusetts.
- Population estimate: 7.17 million
- Population density: 62 residents/square mile (#34)
- Total land mass: 113,594 sq. mi. (#6)
Roughly a quarter of Arizona is home to reservations, including those of 27 federally recognized Native American tribes. The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian reservation both in the state and in the country, consisting of more than 300,000 citizens. In the 1990s, Arizona was the second fastest-growing state, with an increase in population by about 45% in metropolitan Phoenix due to job opportunities in the fields of transportation and government.
- Population estimate: 7.54 million
- Population density: 111 residents/square mile (#24)
- Total land mass: 66,456 sq. mi. (#20)
Over half of Washington State's population lives in the Seattle metropolitan area, which is a big hub for the transportation and tech industries. This state is among the best for life expectancy. The minimum wage in Washington State, in 2018, was $11.50, which was the second highest in the country. Job opportunities, beautiful scenery, and good pay make this state a popular place to reside.
- Population estimate: 8.52 million
- Population density: 214 residents/square mile (#15)
- Total land mass: 39,490 sq. mi. (#36)
Virginia's unofficial nickname is “Mother of Presidents,” as this state has been home to eight U.S. presidents, more than any other state. Many federal agencies, such as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, are located in the northern part of this state.
- Population estimate: 8.91 million
- Population density: 1,225 residents/square mile (#2)
- Total land mass: 7,354 sq. mi. (#46)
New Jersey is the second most densely populated state in the U.S. This state played a major role in the Industrial Revolution, particularly because of the Big Six factory cities, which sparked massive population growth during this time. Due to its proximity to New York City, other major cities, and extensive transportation services, many people reside in New Jersey and commute into these metropolitan areas for work.
- Population estimate: 10 million
- Population density: 176 residents/square mile (#19)
- Total land mass: 56,539 sq. mi. (#22)
Michigan is widely known as the capital of the U.S. automotive industry, as three major automobile companies are headquartered in the Detroit metropolitan area. This boom in the early 20th century saw a large growth in population as many people flocked to the Detroit area for jobs and opportunity. However, the population has fluctuated in the past few decades, as changes in the automobile industry have shifted towards more renewable energy sources. This has impacted the economic prosperity of the state.
- Population estimate: 10.38 million
- Population density: 211 residents/square mile (#16)
- Total land mass: 48,618 sq. mi. (#29)
In recent years, North Carolina has experienced massive population growths, mainly in Charlotte as it has become the second-largest banking center in the U.S. after New York City. A majority of the state's population are between 18 and 65 years old, with most of these newcomers residing in major cities. North Carolina has also been ranked in the top five best states for business for the past 11 years.
- Population estimate: 10.52 million
- Population density: 181 residents/square mile (#18)
- Total land mass: 57,513 sq. mi. (#21)
From 2007 to 2008, 14 counties in Georgia were ranked among the 100 fastest growing in the United States. Atlanta, the state's capital, has been named a global city and contains over half of the state's overall population in the metropolitan area. Before the Civil War, almost half of Georgia's population was African-American. However, during the Great Migration, this population significantly decreased.
- Population estimate: 11.69 million
- Population density: 285 residents/square mile (#11)
- Total land mass: 40,861 sq. mi. (#35)
Ohio, similar to Michigan, is a massive producer of automobiles and a large industrial state. During the 1920s to 1950s, the state saw spikes in population growth in relation to the automobile industry boom. However, recently, its growth has slowed and is typically somewhat slower than the national average.
- Population estimate: 12.74 million
- Population density: 231 residents/square mile (#13)
- Total land mass: 55,519 sq. mi. (#24)
The Chicago metropolitan area, known as Chicagoland, contains over half of the total Illinois population. Illinois is a major transportation hub, home O'Hare International Airport, located in Chicago, which is one of the world's busiest airports. The Port of Chicago connects the state to other global ports around the world. Population in this state increased during the Great Migration period, as there was an influx of African-Americans from the South. This migration created a new culture, specifically in Chicago, centered on jazz and blues, which is a prevalent part of Illinois' culture to this day.
- Population estimate: 12.81 million
- Population density: 286 residents/square mile (#10)
- Total land mass: 44,743 sq. mi. (#32)
Pennsylvania was home to many of the United States' biggest historical events: Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were drafted, is located in Philadelphia; Valley Forge, the headquarters for Gen. George Washington from 1777 to '78, is located right outside of Philadelphia. In recent years, population growth has slowed, although tourism remains high due to many of these historic sites. Pennsylvania's economy is largely dependent on banking and agriculture.
- Population estimate: 19.54 million
- Population density: 421 residents/square mile (#8)
- Total land mass: 47,126 sq. mi. (#30)
New York City is the state's most populous city, with about half of the state's population residing there or in the metropolitan area. Long Island houses a little under half of the remaining population. This city has been deemed as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, drawing in many new residents as well as a steady stream of tourists. Although the city itself is continuously increasing in population, the rural areas of New York are decreasing in population, as many people are flocking to more urban areas, thus creating an overall slowing of population growth.
- Population estimate: 21.30 million
- Population density: 391 residents/square mile (#9)
- Total land mass: 53,625 sq. mi. (#26)
In the past few years, Florida has been known for its high population growth and was one of the top 10 fastest-growing states in the U.S. in 2012. Florida also contains the highest percentage of people over 65 (17%), as many older adults flock to this state for its warm weather. In fact, over half of the state's population was born in another state, which is partly due to the high number of retirees living in this state.
- Population estimate: 28.70 million
- Population density: 108 residents/square mile (#25)
- Total land mass: 261,232 sq. mi. (#2)
Texas is the second largest state in the union, both by population and total land mass. Texas is home to several major cities, such as Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. During the mid-20th century, Texas's economy changed drastically from cattle and timber to leading industries in energy, aerospace, and biomedical sciences, causing a major population boom that shows no sign of slowing down.
- Population estimate: 39.56 million
- Population density: 254 residents/square mile (#12)
- Total land mass: 155,779 sq. mi. (#3)
The Greater Los Angeles Area is the second largest metropolitan area in the United States, behind the New York metropolitan area. Four of the topmost populous cities are located in California (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco). California is considered a global trendsetter in many aspects such as popular culture and innovation. It has an extremely diverse economy, with leading industries in finance, real estate, technology, and business services, which attracts many people to this state and its cities.