The Most Abnormal States In America

The United States is a big, diverse place, with each of the 50 states differing from each other in significant ways.

We recently took a look at the most normal states in America. Here is the other side of that ranking — the 11 states that are furthest from the national norm.

We considered 31 indicators from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, along with 2012 unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labour Statistics. The indicators cover different social, economic, housing-related, and demographic characteristics of each state’s population and of the population of the U.S. as a whole.

For each of those indicators, we figured out how far each state’s level was away from the national level. These were then rescaled and averaged to get a sense of how far each state is from the overall national baseline. The states were then ranked on “normalness” based on how large that average distance was.

Below are the 32 population indicators from the 2012 American Community Survey and Bureau of Labour Statistics we used to compare the states, along with the corresponding national baseline values.

All values (except unemployment) were taken from the 2012 ACS 1 year estimates, downloaded using the Census Bureau’s American Factfinder tool.

11. California

A dog surfing competition in Huntington Beach, CA

Why it's weird: California is a land of immigrants to an even greater extent than the rest of America. Californians were more than twice as likely to have been born abroad than Americans overall -- 27.1% of Californians were foreign born, as opposed to 13.0% of Americans. Unsurprisingly, the proportion of households in which English is the sole language spoken was much lower in California than in any other state -- this is true in only 55.7% of Californian households, but 79.0% of U.S. households spoke only English at home.

Why it's normal: California's birth rate tracks closely to the nation's -- in California, 53 babies were born for every 1,000 women, while the U.S. birth rate was 54 babies per 1,000 women. The proportion of workers in the public sector was also similar to the national total -- 13.9% in California, and 14.5% in America.

8. Vermont

Ben and Jerry, Vermonters

Why it's weird: Like Maine, Vermont was older and whiter than the country as a whole -- 94.0% of Vermonters identified as white, and the median age was 42.4 years, compared to 62.8% of Americans identifying as white, and the national median age of 37.4. Vermonters also had a much higher pre-Affordable Care Act health insurance rate of 93.5%, as opposed to 85.2% of Americans.

Why it's normal: Vermont matched national levels on a couple housing indicators -- 65.6% of owner-occupied Vermont housing units had a mortgage, compared to 65.7% of units nationwide. Median apartment rent was $US860 per month, just a little under the national median of $US884.

7. Montana

Why it's weird: Montanans were more likely to be married than other Americans. 53.1% of Montana men and 52.2% of Montana women were currently married in 2012, as opposed to 49.8% of American men and 46.3% of American women. Montana also had a higher share of veterans than the country as a whole, with 12.7% of Montanans having served, compared to just 8.9% of Americans.

Why it's normal: Montana's educational attainment was in line with the rest of the nation -- 29.4% of Montanans had a bachelor's degree or higher, just slightly more than the 29.1% of Americans who did. The poverty rate was also similar to that of the U.S. as a whole -- 15.5% of Montanans had salaries below the poverty line, a little under the national poverty rate of 15.9%.

6. Mississippi

The heaviest alligator caught in Mississippi

Why it's weird: Mississippi had the highest concentration of African Americans of any state. 37.5% of Mississippians identified as black or African American -- over three times the national rate of 12.3%. Unfortunately, Mississippi also had the highest poverty rate in the country -- 24.2% of Mississippi's residents had incomes below the poverty line, dramatically higher than the national poverty rate of 15.9%.

Why it's normal: Mississippi's families looked much like families in the country as a whole. Average household size in Mississippi was 2.65 people, about the same as the national average of 2.64 people. 29.6% of households in Mississippi were families with children under 18, just a bit higher than the national rate of 29.0%.

5. North Dakota

A worker at North Dakota's Bakken shale formation

Why it's weird: Owing to the boom in shale oil and gas drilling, North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate in the country of just 3.0%, far lower than the national rate of 8.1%. North Dakota also had a very high birth rate of 72 births per 1,000 women, much higher than the national rate of 54 births per 1,000 women.

Why it's normal: North Dakota was in line with the country on a couple of different housing indicators. Age of homes was similar to the national total -- 16.1% of North Dakota houses were built after 2000, compared to 15.8% of houses across the country. 11.6% of North Dakota housing units were vacant, similar to the 12.4% of American units.

4. Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

Why it's weird: Utah is much more family oriented than any other state. Marriage rates are very high -- 55.9% of Utah's men and 55.4% of women were married, as opposed to 49.8% of American men and 46.3% of women. A large proportion of families have children -- 38.5% of Utah households had children under 18, but only 29.0% of American households did. Utah had the highest birth rate in the nation, with 77 births per 1,000 women, almost half again as high as the national rate of 54 births per 1,000 women. As a result of this skew towards children, Utah was the youngest state in the country. The median age in Utah was 29.9 years, seven and a half years younger than the U.S. median of 37.4 years.

Why it's normal: One metric where Utah was close to the country overall was in health insurance coverage. 85.5% of Utahns had health insurance in 2012, about the same as the national rate of 85.2%.

3. West Virginia

West Virginian coal miners

Why it's weird: West Virginia is an extreme on a few metrics. West Virginians were much less likely to have mortgages on their homes -- 48.3% of houses in West Virginia had mortgages, as opposed to 65.7% in the United States. West Virginia had a higher proportion of people receiving social security benefits -- 38.6% of households received benefits in West Virginia, while 29.3% of households in the U.S. did. 19.0% of West Virginians had a disability, much higher than the national 12.2% disability rate. West Virginia also came in last on our measure of educational attainment -- only 18.6% of West Virginians had a bachelor's degree or higher, and 29.1% of Americans did.

Why it's normal: West Virginia had about the same gender breakdown as the rest of the country. 50.9% of West Virginians were women, as were 50.8% of Americans. West Virginians also spent about the same time getting to work as everyone else -- the mean West Virginia commute was 25.2 minutes, half a minute shorter than the U.S. mean commute of 25.7 minutes.

1. Alaska

Why it's weird: Alaska is very different from the rest of the country. Alaska had a huge gender split -- only 47.9% of Alaskans were women, as opposed to 50.5 of Americans. 15.0% of Alaskans identified as some other race, owing to the large number of Native Americans and Alaska natives in the state, as opposed to just 1.1% of Americans identifying this way. 26.0% of Alaska's workers were employed by the local, state, or federal government, but just 14.5% of Americans overall work for the government. Alaskans were much more likely to have served in the military -- 13.6% of Alaskans were veterans, but just 8.9% of Americans were. Alaska also had a higher median household income than the rest of the country -- $US67,712, as opposed to the U.S. median income of $US51,371.

Why it's normal: While Alaska has a much higher proportion of Native Americans than the rest of the country, 63% of Alaskans identified as white alone, very close to the national proportion of 62.8%.

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