North America can be divided into three major landscapes. The geologically young fold mountain belt of the Rocky Mountains with its striking north-south orientation continues as far as South America and reaches its greatest width in the area of the Great Basin. It has been folded onto the geologically old, stable American shield with its wide, open landscapes (Great Plains) in the east. There the waters form distinctive guidelines (chain of lakes from Bear Lake to Lake Erie, Hudson Bay, St. Lawrence River, Mississippi). The archipelagos in the Arctic Ocean and Greenland form the third large landscape.
With an average population density of 32 inhabitants per square kilometer, the United States is much more sparsely populated than many European countries (for comparison: Germany 226 people / km 2 ; Poland 123 people / km 2 ; France 98 people / km 2 ; Spain 92 people /km 2 ) or China (143 people /km 2 ) or India (368 people /km 2 ). See more country population density on COUNTRYAAH.COM.
There are considerable contrasts within the United States. The most densely populated regions are in the east and on the Pacific coast. In between there are extensive areas in the area of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the intramontane basins between the Rocky Mountains and the coastal chain, which are only very sparsely populated. The only exceptions are a few large cities such as Denver and Salt Lake City.
The agglomerations are also distributed accordingly. They are concentrated in the northeast of the country. In 2013, 83 percent of Americans lived in cities (262 million), of which 44 percent lived in the twelve largest metropolitan areas alone (in order of population: New York, Greater Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Greater San Francisco Bay, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit). Within the metropolitan areas, most of the population lives in the suburban area. In the north-east in particular, the cities have grown together to form closed bands of settlements.
In Canada, the population centers are in the south: along the St. Lawrence River, in the Great Plains and as an island on the west coast.
OLD AND NEW MIGRATION FLOWS
Since it was founded in 1776, the USA has been a country characterized by the extraordinary mobility of its inhabitants. The “train to the west” during the 19th century is one of the great narratives that helped shape the identity of the American nation. Up to the present day, large-scale internal migration has led to considerable shifts in population figures between states and regions. In the first half of the 20th century, the industrial regions of the Northeast and the Midwest, the Manufacturing Belt, recorded the strongest population growth. The migration of the Afro-American population from the agrarian south to the industrial cities of the north made a decisive contribution to this.
In the past few decades, however, there has been a clear trend reversal, as the population increase is now primarily concentrated in the west and south of the USA. Population gains in the west, especially California, have recently been fueled by overseas immigration and internal migration. The main destinations for internal migration are the cities and their suburban surroundings; this is reflected in the sometimes high growth rates of the population in the agglomerations in the west (see map).
In contrast, the growth in the south is primarily due to the massive migration surpluses compared to the other major regions. In the Sunbelt, almost all agglomerations show high to very high population growth rates. In contrast, the agglomerations in the northeast show only a moderate increase between 2000 and 2012; Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo are the only large metropolitan areas in the USA that even suffered population losses during this period.
There are many reasons for the rise of the south. In addition to a general improvement in living conditions, the reduction of disadvantages due to belonging to an ethnic group and the mild climate, the favorable conditions for the settlement of high-growth industries played a major role. In contrast, the crises in traditional industries, economic structural change, the loss of jobs and the sometimes difficult living conditions in the large metropolises were the main causes of emigration, especially in the Great Lakes area. The east coast is to be distinguished from this, especially the Washington – New York – Boston city band, where the development is much more positive.
In addition to the job-oriented migration, especially of the Afro-American population, a distinctive migration of pensioners who move from the northeast with its harsh climate to the mild south can be observed as a special form.