Coordinates: 40°N 100°W / 40°N 100°W / 40; -100
The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million km2), the United States is the world’s third or fourth largest country by total area and slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe’s 3.9 million square miles (10.1 million km2). With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York. Forty-eight states and the capital’s federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries.
The land area of the entire United States is approximately 3,800,000 square miles (9,841,955 km2), with the contiguous United States making up 2,959,064 square miles (7,663,940.6 km2) of that. Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 663,268 square miles (1,717,856.2 km2). Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, is 10,931 square miles (28,311 km2) in area. The populated territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands together cover 9,185 square miles (23,789 km2). Measured by only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.
The United States is the world’s third- or fourth-largest nation by total area (land and water), ranking behind Russia and Canada and just above or below China. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted, and how the total size of the United States is measured. The Encyclopædia Britannica, for instance, lists the size of the United States as 3,677,649 square miles (9,525,067 km2), as they do not count the country’s coastal or territorial waters. The World Factbook, which includes those waters, gives 3,796,742 square miles (9,833,517 km2).
The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest. The Mississippi–Missouri River, the world’s fourth longest river system, runs mainly north–south through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast.
The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Chihuahua and Mojave. The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast, both ranges reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m). The lowest and highest points in the contiguous United States are in the state of California, and only about 84 miles (135 km) apart. At an elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190.5 m), Alaska’s Denali (Mount McKinley) is the highest peak in the country and North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska’s Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent’s largest volcanic feature. The United States has the most ecoregions out of any country in the world.
The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the 100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi-arid. Much of the Western mountains have an alpine climate. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Hawaii and the southern tip of Florida are tropical, as are the populated territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Extreme weather is not uncommon—the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world’s tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in Tornado Alley areas in the Midwest and South.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the country’s population to be 327,167,434 as of July 1, 2018, and to be adding 1 person (net gain) every 13 seconds, or about 6,646 people per day. The U.S. population almost quadrupled during the 20th century, from 76.2 million in 1900 to 281.4 million in 2000. The third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, the United States is the only major industrialized nation in which large population increases are projected. In the 1800s the average woman had 7.04 children; by the 1900s this number had decreased to 3.56. Since the early 1970s the birth rate has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 with 1.76 children per woman in 2017. Foreign-born immigration has caused the U.S. population to continue its rapid increase with the foreign-born population doubling from almost 20 million in 1990 to over 40 million in 2010, representing one-third of the population increase. The foreign-born population reached 45 million in 2015. The United States has a very diverse population; 37 ancestry groups have more than one million members. German Americans are the largest ethnic group (more than 50 million) – followed by Irish Americans (circa 37 million), Mexican Americans (circa 31 million) and English Americans (circa 28 million).
White Americans (mostly European ancestry group with 73.1% of total population) are the largest racial group; black Americans are the nation’s largest racial minority (note that in the U.S. Census, Hispanic and Latino Americans are counted as an ethnic group, not a “racial” group), and third-largest ancestry group. Asian Americans are the country’s second-largest racial minority; the three largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Indian Americans. According to a 2015 survey, the largest American community with European ancestry is German Americans, which consists of more than 14% of total population. In 2010, the U.S. population included an estimated 5.2 million people with some American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry (2.9 million exclusively of such ancestry) and 1.2 million with some native Hawaiian or Pacific island ancestry (0.5 million exclusively). The census counted more than 19 million people of “Some Other Race” who were “unable to identify with any” of its five official race categories in 2010, over 18.5 million (97%) of whom are of Hispanic ethnicity.
The population growth of Hispanic and Latino Americans (the terms are officially interchangeable) is a major demographic trend. The 50.5 million Americans of Hispanic descent are identified as sharing a distinct “ethnicity” by the Census Bureau; 64% of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent. Between 2000 and 2010, the country’s Hispanic population increased 43% while the non-Hispanic population rose just 4.9%. Much of this growth is from immigration; in 2007, 12.6% of the U.S. population was foreign-born, with 54% of that figure born in Latin America.
The drop in the U.S. fertility rate from 2.08 per woman in 2007 to 1.76 in 2017 was mostly due to the declining birth rate of Hispanics, teenagers, and young women, although the birth rate for older women rose.
Minorities (as defined by the Census Bureau as all those beside non-Hispanic, non-multiracial whites) constituted 37.2% of the population in 2012 and over 50% of children under age one, and are projected to constitute the majority by 2044.
The United States has a birth rate of 13 per 1,000, which is 5 births below the world average. Its population growth rate is positive at 0.7%, higher than that of many developed nations. In fiscal year 2016, over one million immigrants (most of whom entered through family reunification) were granted legal residence. Mexico has been the leading source of new residents since the 1965 Immigration Act. China, India, and the Philippines have been in the top four sending countries every year since the 1990s. As of 2012, approximately 11.4 million residents are illegal immigrants. As of 2015, 47% of all immigrants are Hispanic, 26% are Asian, 18% are white and 8% are black. The percentage of immigrants who are Asian is increasing while the percentage who are Hispanic is decreasing. The estimated number of illegal immigrants dropped to 10.7 million in 2017, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007. In 2017, 33,000 refugees were resettled in the United States. This was fewer than were resettled in the rest of the world for the first time in decades.
A 2017 Gallup poll concluded that 4.5% of adult Americans identified as LGBT with 5.1% of women identifying as LGBT, compared with 3.9% of men. The highest percentage came from the District of Columbia (10%), while the lowest state was North Dakota at 1.7%.
About 82% of Americans live in urban areas (including suburbs); about half of those reside in cities with populations over 50,000. The U.S. has numerous clusters of cities known as megaregions, the largest being the Great Lakes Megalopolis followed by the Northeast Megalopolis and Southern California. In 2008, 273 incorporated municipalities had populations over 100,000, nine cities had more than one million residents, and four global cities had over two million (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston). There are 52 metropolitan areas with populations greater than one million. Of the 50 fastest-growing metro areas, 47 are in the West or South. The metro areas of San Bernardino, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008.
English (American English) is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize English. In 2010, about 230 million, or 80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. Spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language. Some Americans advocate making English the country’s official language, as it is in 32 states.
Both Hawaiian and English are official languages in Hawaii, by state law. Alaska recognizes twenty Native languages as well as English. While neither has an official language, New Mexico has laws providing for the use of both English and Spanish, as Louisiana does for English and French. Other states, such as California, mandate the publication of Spanish versions of certain government documents including court forms.
Several insular territories grant official recognition to their native languages, along with English: Samoan is officially recognized by American Samoa. Chamorro is an official language of Guam. Both Carolinian and Chamorro have official recognition in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Spanish is an official language of Puerto Rico and is more widely spoken than English there.
The most widely taught foreign languages in the United States, in terms of enrollment numbers from kindergarten through university undergraduate studies, are: Spanish (around 7.2 million students), French (1.5 million), and German (500,000). Other commonly taught languages (with 100,000 to 250,000 learners) include Latin, Japanese, ASL, Italian, and Chinese. 18% of all Americans claim to speak at least one language in addition to English.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids Congress from passing laws respecting its establishment.
In a 2013 survey, 56% of Americans said that religion played a “very important role in their lives”, a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 42% of Americans said that they attended church weekly or almost weekly; the figures ranged from a low of 23% in Vermont to a high of 63% in Mississippi.
As with other Western countries, the U.S. is becoming less religious. Irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30. Polls show that overall American confidence in organized religion has been declining since the mid to late 1980s, and that younger Americans, in particular, are becoming increasingly irreligious. According to a 2012 study, the Protestant share of the U.S. population had dropped to 48%, thus ending its status as religious category of the majority for the first time. Americans with no religion have 1.7 children compared to 2.2 among Christians. The unaffiliated are less likely to get married with 37% marrying compared to 52% of Christians.
According to a 2014 survey, 70.6% of adults in the United States identified themselves as Christians; Protestants accounted for 46.5%, while Roman Catholics, at 20.8%, formed the largest single denomination. In 2014, 5.9% of the U.S. adult population claimed a non-Christian religion. These include Judaism (1.9%), Hinduism (1.2%), Buddhism (0.9%), and Islam (0.9%). The survey also reported that 22.8% of Americans described themselves as agnostic, atheist or simply having no religion—up from 8.2% in 1990. There are also Unitarian Universalist, Scientologist, Baha’i, Sikh, Jain, Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, Druid, Native American, Wiccan, humanist and deist communities.
Protestantism is the largest Christian religious grouping in the United States, accounting for almost half of all Americans. Baptists collectively form the largest branch of Protestantism at 15.4%, and the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest individual Protestant denomination at 5.3% of the U.S. population. Apart from Baptists, other Protestant categories include nondenominational Protestants, Methodists, Pentecostals, unspecified Protestants, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, other Reformed, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Quakers, Adventists, Holiness, Christian fundamentalists, Anabaptists, Pietists, and multiple others. Two-thirds of American Protestants consider themselves to be born again. Roman Catholicism in the United States has its origin primarily in the Spanish and French colonization of the Americas, as well as in the English colony of Maryland. It later grew because of Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Hispanic immigration. Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics, with 40 percent of the total population. Utah is the only state where Mormonism is the religion of the majority of the population. The Mormon Corridor also extends to parts of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. Eastern Orthodoxy is claimed by 5% of people in Alaska, a former Russian colony, and maintains a presence on the U.S. mainland due to recent immigration from Eastern Europe. Finally, a number of other Christian groups are active across the country, including the Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Restorationists, Churches of Christ, Christian Scientists, Unitarians and many others.
The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the Southern United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation’s average. By contrast, religion plays the least important role in New England and in the Western United States.
As of 2007, 58% of Americans age 18 and over were married, 6% were widowed, 10% were divorced, and 25% had never been married. Women now work mostly outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor’s degrees.
The U.S. teenage pregnancy rate is 26.5 per 1,000 women. The rate has declined by 57% since 1991. In 2013, the highest teenage birth rate was in Alabama, and the lowest in Wyoming. Abortion is legal throughout the U.S., owing to Roe v. Wade, a 1973 landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. While the abortion rate is falling, the abortion ratio of 241 per 1,000 live births and abortion rate of 15 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 remain higher than those of most Western nations. In 2013, the average age at first birth was 26 and 40.6% of births were to unmarried women.
The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2016 was 1.82 births per 1000 woman. Adoption in the United States is common and relatively easy from a legal point of view (compared to other Western countries). In 2001, with over 127,000 adoptions, the U.S. accounted for nearly half of the total number of adoptions worldwide. Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, owing to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, and it is legal for same-sex couples to adopt. Polygamy is illegal throughout the U.S.
The United States had a life expectancy of 78.6 years at birth in 2017, which was the third year of declines in life expectancy following decades of continuous increase. The recent decline is largely due to sharp increases in the drug overdose and suicide rates. Life expectancy was highest among Asians and Hispanics and lowest among blacks.
Increasing obesity in the United States and health improvements elsewhere contributed to lowering the country’s rank in life expectancy from 11th in the world in 1987, to 42nd in 2007. Obesity rates have more than doubled in the last 30 years, are the highest in the industrialized world, and are among the highest anywhere. Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight. Obesity-related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals.
In 2010, coronary artery disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and traffic accidents caused the most years of life lost in the U.S. Low back pain, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, neck pain, and anxiety caused the most years lost to disability. The most deleterious risk factors were poor diet, tobacco smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, physical inactivity, and alcohol use. Alzheimer’s disease, drug abuse, kidney disease, cancer, and falls caused the most additional years of life lost over their age-adjusted 1990 per-capita rates. U.S. teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are substantially higher than in other Western nations, especially among blacks and Hispanics. Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016, and is a leading cause of death in the United States. Drug overdoses, two-thirds of which are from opioids, are the leading cause of death for those under the age of 50.
The U.S. is a global leader in medical innovation. America solely developed or contributed significantly to 9 of the top 10 most important medical innovations since 1975 as ranked by a 2001 poll of physicians, while the European Union and Switzerland together contributed to five. Since 1966, more Americans have received the Nobel Prize in Medicine than the rest of the world combined. From 1989 to 2002, four times more money was invested in private biotechnology companies in America than in Europe. The U.S. health-care system far outspends any other nation, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP.
Health-care coverage in the United States is a combination of public and private efforts and is not universal. In 2017, 12.2% of the population did not carry health insurance. The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance. Federal legislation passed in early 2010 would ostensibly create a near-universal health insurance system around the country by 2014, though the bill and its ultimate effect are issues of controversy.
American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. In most states, children are required to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally, kindergarten or first grade) until they turn 18 (generally bringing them through twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at 16 or 17.
About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled. The U.S. spends more on education per student than any nation in the world, spending more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. Some 80% of U.S. college students attend public universities.
The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education. The majority of the world’s top universities listed by different ranking organizations are in the U.S. There are also local community colleges with generally more open admission policies, shorter academic programs, and lower tuition. Of Americans 25 and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor’s degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees. The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%. The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.
As for public expenditures on higher education, the U.S. trails some other OECD nations but spends more per student than the OECD average, and more than all nations in combined public and private spending. As of 2018, student loan debt exceeded 1.5 trillion dollars, more than Americans owe on credit cards.
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