Northeastern United States

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This article is about the geographical region. For other uses of the term, see Northeastern United States (disambiguation).
The states shown in the two darkest red shades are included in the United States Census Bureau Northeast Region, with states in lighter shades included in other regional definitions (see Composition).

The Northeastern United States, or simply the Northeast, is a geographical region of the United States bounded to the north by Canada, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Southern United States, and to the west by the Midwestern United States. The Northeast is one of the four regions defined by the Census Bureau for the collection and analysis of statistics.[1] The Census Bureau-defined region has a total area of 181,324 sq mi (469,630 km2) with 162,257 sq mi (420,240 km2) of that being land mass.[2] Though lacking a unified cultural identity, the Northeastern region is the nation's most economically developed, densely populated, and culturally diverse.[3][4] Of the nation’s four census regions, the Northeast is the second most urban, with 85 percent of its population residing within urban areas, led by the West with 90 percent.[5]


The Census Bureau has defined the Northeast region as comprising nine states: the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont; and the Mid-Atlantic states of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.[1][a] This definition has been essentially unchanged since 1880, and is widely used as a standard for data tabulation.[7][8][9][10] The Census Bureau has acknowledged the limitations of this definition[11] and the potential merits of a proposal created after the 1950 census that would include changing regional boundaries to include Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. with the Mid-Atlantic states, but ultimately decided that "the new system did not win enough overall acceptance among data users to warrant adoption as an official new set of general-purpose State groupings. The previous development of many series of statistics, arranged and issued over long periods of time on the basis of the existing State groupings, favored the retention of the summary units of the current regions and divisions."[12] The Census Bureau confirmed in 1994 that it would continue to "review the components of the regions and divisions to ensure that they continue to represent the most useful combinations of States and State equivalents."[12] Many organizations and reference works follow the Census Bureau's definition for the region,[13][14][15] however, other entities define the Northeastern United States in significantly different ways for various purposes. The Association of American Geographers divides the Northeast into two divisions- "New England", which consists of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and "Middle States", which consists of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.[16] Similarly, the Geological Society of America defines the Northeast as these same states but with the addition of Maryland and the District of Columbia.[17]

The Library of Congress defines the Northeastern states as those east of Mississippi River and north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers.
Northeastern United States as configured in the Plant Taxonomic Database Standards

The Library of Congress, which provides overlapping definitions of various U.S. regions, broadly includes all the states east of Mississippi River and north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers, which includes the Census Bureau-defined states plus Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.[18] The narrowest definitions include only the states of New England.[19] Other more restrictive definitions include New England and New York as part of the Northeast United States, but exclude Pennsylvania and New Jersey.[20][21] States beyond the Census Bureau definition that other entities include in the Northeast United States are:


Indigenous peoples[edit]

Anthropologists recognize the "Northeastern Woodlands" as one of the cultural regions that existed in the Western Hemisphere at the time of European colonists in the 15th and later centuries. Most did not settle in North America until the 17th century. The cultural area, known as the "Northeastern Woodlands," in addition to covering the entire Northeast U.S., also covered much of what is now Canada and others regions of what is now the eastern United States.[34] Among the many tribes that inhabited this area were those that made up the Iroquois nations and the numerous Algonquian peoples.[35] In the United States of the 21st century, 18 federally recognized tribes reside in the Northeast.[36]

Colonial history[edit]

All of the states making up the Northeastern region were among the original Thirteen Colonies, though Maine and Vermont were part of other colonies before the United States became independent in the American Revolution. The two cultural and geographic regions that form parts of the Northeastern region have distinct histories.

New England[edit]

The Landing of the Pilgrims, Henry A. Bacon (1877)

The first Europeans to settle New England were Pilgrims from England, who landed in present-day Massachusetts in 1620.[37] The Pilgrims arrived by the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony so they could practice religion freely.[37] Ten years later, a larger group of Puritans settled north of Plymouth Colony in Boston to form Massachusetts Bay Colony.[38] In 1636, colonists established Connecticut Colony and Providence Plantations.[39][40] Providence was founded by Roger Williams, who was banished by Massachusetts for his beliefs in freedom of religion, and it was the first colony to guarantee all citizens freedom of worship.[40] Anne Hutchinson, who was also banished by Massachusetts, formed the town of Portsmouth.[40] Providence, Portsmouth, and two other towns (Newport and Warwick) consolidated to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.[40]

Although the first settlers of New England were motivated by religion, in more recent history, New England has become one of the least religious parts of the United States. In a 2009 Gallup survey, less than half of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts reported religion as an important part of their daily life.[41] In a 2010 Gallup survey, less than 30% of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts reported attending church weekly, giving them the lowest church attendance among U.S. states.[42]

New England played a prominent role in early American education. Starting in the 17th century, the larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school.[citation needed] The first public school in the English colonies was the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635.[43] In 1636, the colonial legislature of Massachusetts founded Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.[44]


Henry Hudson explored the area of present-day New York in 1609 and claimed it for the Netherlands. His journey stimulated Dutch interest, and the area became known as New Netherland. In 1625, the city of New Amsterdam (the location of present-day New York City) was designated the capital of the province.[45] The Dutch New Netherland settlement along the Hudson River and, for a time, the New Sweden settlement along the Delaware River divided the English settlements in the north and the south. In 1664, Charles II of England formally annexed New Netherland and incorporated it into the English colonial empire.[46] The territory became the colonies of New York and New Jersey.[46] New Jersey was originally split into East Jersey and West Jersey until the two were united as a royal colony in 1702.[46]

In 1681, William Penn, who wanted to give Quakers a land of religious freedom, founded Pennsylvania and extended freedom of religion to all citizens.[47]

Penn strongly desired access to the sea for his Pennsylvania province and leased what then came to be known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware"[48] from the Duke.

Penn established representative government and briefly combined his two possessions under one General Assembly in 1682. However, by 1704 the Province of Pennsylvania had grown so large that their representatives wanted to make decisions without the assent of the Lower Counties and the two groups of representatives began meeting on their own, one at Philadelphia, and the other at New Castle. Penn and his heirs remained proprietors of both and always appointed the same person Governor for their Province of Pennsylvania and their territory of the Lower Counties. The fact that Delaware and Pennsylvania shared the same governor was not unique. From 1703 to 1738, New York and New Jersey shared a governor.[49] Massachusetts and New Hampshire also shared a governor for some time.[50]


High Point Monument as seen from Lake Marcia at High Point, Sussex County, the highest elevation in New Jersey at 1803 feet above sea level
Cape Cod Bay, a leading tourist destination in Massachusetts
The Palisades along the Hudson River, New York
U.S. Route 220 as it passes through Lamar Township, Pennsylvania


While most of the Northeastern United States lie in the Appalachian Highlands physio-graphic region, some are also part of the Atlantic coastal plain which extends south to the southern tip of Florida. The coastal plain areas (including Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Long Island in New York, most of New Jersey, Delaware, and the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland) are generally low and flat, with sandy soil and marshy land.[4] The highlands, including the Piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains, are generally heavily forested, ranging from rolling hills to summits greater than 5,000 feet (1,500 m), and pocked with many lakes.[4] The highest peak in the Northeast is Mount Washington (New Hampshire), at 6,288 feet (1,917 m).[51]

Land use[edit]

As of 2007, forest-use covered approximately 60% of the Northeastern states (including Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia), about twice the national average. About 12% was cropland and another 4% grassland pasture or range. There is also more urbanized land in the Northeast (11%) than any other region in the U.S.[26]


The climate of the Northeastern United States is impacted by the position of the mountain ranges and lakes, as well as the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. During the winter, a prevailing westerly flow of air masses combines with the polar jet stream to bring bitter cold and frequent storm systems to the region. A semi-permanent high pressure system over the subtropical Atlantic Ocean causes summers to be generally warm and humid.[52] Average annual temperatures range from the 50s and 60s in the far southern and coastal areas to the 20s and 30s in the far northern and mountainous areas.[52] According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, the average January temperature in its twelve-state region is 23.6 °F (−4.7 °C), with 3.07 inches (78 mm) of precipitation.[53] This compares to July, when the regional average temperature is 69.9 °F (21.1 °C), with 4.25 inches (108 mm) of precipitation.[54]


The Northeast has 72 National Wildlife Refuges, encompassing more than 500,000 acres (780 sq mi; 2,000 km2) of habitat, and designed to protect some of the 92 different threatened and endangered species living in the region.[36]


New York City, the most populous city in the Northeast and all of the United States
Philadelphia, the second most populous city in the Northeast and the fifth most populated city in the United States
Boston, the most populated city in Massachusetts and New England and the third most populated city in the Northeast
Pittsburgh, the second most populous city in Pennsylvania, and the fourth most populous city in the Northeast

As of the July, 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the population of the region totaled 55,943,073.[55] With an average of 345.5 people per square mile, the Northeast is 2.5 times as densely populated as the second-most dense region, the South. Since the last century, the U.S. population has been shifting away from the Northeast (and Midwest) toward the South and West.[56]

The two U.S. Census Bureau divisions in the Northeast (New England and Mid-Atlantic) rank #1 and #2 among the 9 divisions in population density according to the 2013 population estimate. The South Atlantic region (233.1) was very close behind New England (233.2). Due to the faster growth of the South Atlantic region, it will take over the #2 division rank in population density in the next estimate, dropping New England to 3rd position. New England is projected to retain the number 3 rank for many, many years, as the only other lower-ranked division with even half the population density of New England is the East North Central division (192.1) and this region's population is projected to grow slowly. [b][57]

Population, land area and density
(2013 est.)
Land area
2 Rhode Island1,051,5111,0341,017.1NEng
3 Massachusetts6,692,8247,800858.0NEng
4 Connecticut3,596,0804,842742.6NEng
21 New Hampshire1,323,4598,953147.8NEng
31 Vermont626,6309,21768.0NEng
38 Maine1,328,30230,84343.1NEng
2       New England14,618,80662,688233.2NEast
1 New Jersey8,899,3397,3541,210.1MdAtl
7 New York19,651,12747,126417.0MdAtl
9 Pennsylvania12,773,80144,743285.5MdAtl
1       Mid-Atlantic41,324,26799,223416.5NEast
1       Northeast55,943,073161,912345.5USA

Below are the ten most populous metropolitan statistical areas, and the ten largest cities of the Census Bureau-defined region. Several of these cities in a narrow strip along the seaboard comprise the backbone of the Northeast megalopolis, excluding Baltimore and Washington, D.C.[58][59]

RankMetropolitan AreaState(s)Population
(2010 Census)
1New York CityCT, NJ, NY, PA18,897,109
2PhiladelphiaDE, MD, NJ, PA5,965,343
3BostonMA, NH, RI4,552,402
5ProvidenceMA, RI1,600,852
10WorcesterMA, CT923,762


(2012 est.)
City areaPopulation density
(2012 est.)
1New YorkNY8,336,697784 km210,640/km2
2PhiladelphiaPA1,547,607347 km24,394/km2
3BostonMA636,479125 km24,980/km2
4PittsburghPA306,211144 km22,140/km2
5NewarkNJ277,72763 km24,424/km2
6BuffaloNY259,384105 km22,569/km2
7Jersey CityNJ254,44138 km26,462/km2
8RochesterNY210,85593 km22,369/km2
9YonkersNY198,44918 km24,188/km2
10WorcesterMA182,66997 km21,808/km2



As of 2012, the region accounts for approximately 23% of U.S. gross domestic product.[62]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees 34 nuclear reactors, eight for research or testing and 26 for power production in the Northeastern United States.[25]

New York City, considered a global financial center, is in the Northeast.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains 17 federal prisons and two affiliated private facilities in the region.[32]


The following table includes all eight airports categorized by the FAA as large hubs located in the FAA's Northeast and Eastern regions:[63]

RankMetro area servedAirport
Airport nameLargest airline[64]
1New YorkJFKJohn F Kennedy InternationalJetBlue (37%)
2New YorkEWRNewark Liberty InternationalUnited (49%)
3PhiladelphiaPHLPhiladelphia InternationalUS Airways (42%)
4BostonBOSGeneral Edward Lawrence Logan InternationalJetBlue (29%)
5New YorkLGALa GuardiaDelta (21%)
6Baltimore / WashingtonBWIBaltimore/Washington International Thurgood MarshallSouthwest (65%)
7WashingtonIADWashington Dulles InternationalUnited (41%)
8WashingtonDCARonald Reagan Washington NationalUS Airways (19%)


Geographer Wilbur Zelinsky asserts that the Northeast region lacks a unified cultural identity,[3] but has served as a "culture hearth" for the rest of the nation.[65] Several much smaller geographical regions within the Northeast do have distinct cultural identities.[3]


Almost half of the National Historic Landmarks maintained by the National Park Service are located in the Northeastern United States.[66]


According to a 2009 Gallup poll, the Northeastern states differ from most of the rest of the U.S. in religious affiliation, generally reflecting the descendants of immigration patterns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with many Catholics arriving from Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey are the only states in the nation where Catholics outnumber Protestants and other Christian denominations. More than 20% of respondents in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont declared no religious identity.[67]


The Northeast region is home to 22 professional sports franchises in the "Big Four" leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB),[68] with more than 110 championships collectively among them.[69] The region has also been noted for the relative prevalence of the traditionally Northeastern sports of hockey and lacrosse.[70]


The rate of potentially preventable hospital discharges in the Northeastern United States fell from 2005 to 2011 for overall conditions, acute conditions, and chronic conditions.[71]


The Northeastern United States tended to vote Republican in federal elections through the first half of the 20th century, but the region has since the 1990s shifted to become the most Democratic in the nation.[24] Results from a 2008 Gallup poll indicated that eight of the top ten Democratic states were located in the region, with every Northeastern state having a Democratic party affiliation advantage of at least ten points.[72] The following table demonstrates Democratic support in the Northeast as compared to the remainder of the nation.[73]

Year% President vote% Senate seats% House seats
2010  75.047.567.938.5

The following table of United States presidential election results since 1900 illustrates that over the past six presidential elections, only one Northeastern state supported a Republican candidate (New Hampshire voted for George W. Bush in 2000).[74] Bolded entries indicate that party's candidate also won the general election.

DC                DDDDDDDDDDDDD

The following table shows the breakdown of party affiliation of governors, state legislative houses, and U.S. congressional delegation for the Northeastern states, as of 2010.[75] (Demographics reflect registration-by-party figures from that state's registered voter statistics.)

StateGovernorUpper House MajorityLower House MajoritySenior U.S. SenatorJunior U.S. SenatorU.S. House DelegationDemographics

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The U.S. Census Bureau reorganized its administrative units and its regional offices do not cover the Census regions (the northeastern most regional office headquartered in New York City covers New England, New York, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico).[6]
  2. ^ Based on U.S. Census Bureau population projections to 2030 (and assuming constant land area) the population density for the South Atlantic division will increase significantly to 294.6/sqmi, New England's density will increase to 249.2/sqmi and the East North Central division will increase only slightly to 200.2/sqmi. The division with the 5th highest density is projected to be the East South Central division at 111.6/sqmi.[57]
  3. ^ Where each state, division and region ranks among the 50 states, 9 districts and 4 regions in population density.


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  2. ^ "GCT-PH1-Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density". "American FactFinder". U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. 
  3. ^ a b c Zelinsky, Wilbur (June 1980). "North America's Vernacular Regions". Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70 (1). doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1980.tb01293.x. 
  4. ^ a b c d Hobbs, Joseph John (2009). World Regional Geography. Cengage Learning. p. 647. ISBN 9780495389507. Retrieved November 4, 2013. 
  5. ^ Elkins, Rick (March 28, 2012). "Census Bureau releases list of urban areas". Porterville Recorder. Archived from the original on 5 Nov 13. Retrieved July 25, 2012.  Check date values in: |archivedate= (help)
  6. ^ "2013 Regions of the US Census Bureau". Census Bureau. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
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  9. ^ Dale M. Lewison (1997). Retailing. Prentice Hall. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-13-461427-4. "Perhaps the most widely used regional classification system is one developed by the U.S. Census Bureau." 
  10. ^ Pamela Goyan Kittler, Kathryn P. Sucher (2008). Food and Culture. Cengage Learning. p. 475. ISBN 9780495115410. "(M)ost demographic and food consumption data are presented in this four-region format." 
  11. ^ Proceedings of the National Geographic Areas Conference: putting it together for 1990. U.S. Census Bureau. 1984. p. 161. 
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  27. ^ Barron, Eric (2001). "Chapter 4: Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change for the Northeastern United States". In National Assessment Synthesis Team, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Climate Change Impacts on the United States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00075-0. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
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Coordinates: 42°N 73°W / 42°N 73°W / 42; -73