The United States is a big, diverse place, with each of the 50 states differing from each other in significant ways.
We wanted to take a big-picture perspective, and try to see how much the states vary from each other and from the country at large.
We were also curious about which states were the most “average” — the most similar to America overall.
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.
Why it's normal: Michiganders were about as likely as Americans as a whole to stay in their homes -- 85.2% of Michigan's residents lived in the same house in 2012 as they had a year before, compared to 85.0% of Americans. Michigan also had about the same gender breakdown as the United States. 50.9% of Michiganians were women, just a tenth of a per cent more than the 50.8% rate for the entire country.
Why it's weird: Michigan was less Hispanic and more white than the rest of America. Only 4.6% of Michiganians identified as Hispanic or Latino of any race, as opposed to 16.9% of Americans. Similarly, 76.1% of Michigan's residents identified as non-Hispanic white, but only 62.8% of Americans identified this way.
Why it's normal: Georgia was very close to to the national norm on a few indicators. 15.5% of workers in Georgia were employed in the public sector, compared to 14.5% of workers in America. Educational attainment was also fairly close to the U.S. average -- 28.2% of Georgians had a bachelor's degree or higher, as did 29.1% of people in the country.
Why it's weird: Georgia is a huge center of African American life, and has a much higher proportion of African Americans than the country as a whole. 30.5% of Georgians identified as black or African American -- almost two and a half times the national proportion of 12.3%.
Why it's normal: Ohio was close to the national average on two of the demographic racial indicators -- people identifying as two or more races (OH: 2.0%, US: 2.1%), and people identifying as black (OH: 12.1%, US: 12.3%). Ohioans of both sexes also were married at very similar rates to Americans at large -- 50.0% of Ohio men and 46.2% of Ohio women were married, compared to 49.8% of American men and 46.3% of American women.
Why it's weird: Ohio diverged from the U.S. on two of the other demographic racial indicators -- 80.6% of Ohioans were Non-Hispanic white, whereas only 62.8 of Americans identified this way. Conversely, only 3.2% of Ohioans were Hispanic or Latino, as opposed to 16.9% of Americans. More Ohioans also spoke only English at home (93.3%) than did overall Americans (79.0%).
Why it's normal: Missouri fell at or near the national average for a bunch of demographic indicators -- the proportions of multiracial and black Missourians were close to those of the entire country, as was the proportion of Missourians identifying as some other race. Missouri's rate of 16.2% of people whose incomes fell under the poverty line was close to the national poverty rate of 15.9%.
Why it's weird: Missouri was similar to Ohio in that Missourians identifying as white (80.5%) were overrepresented, and Missourians identifying as Hispanic/Latino (3.7%) were underrepresented.
Why it's normal: Delaware's marriage rate for men was identical to the national rate -- 49.8%, although the rate for women was slightly lower than for the country -- 45.1% of Delaware women were married, as opposed to 46.3% of American women. The average length of a Delawarean's commute was very close to the national average -- 25.8 minutes in Delaware, and 25.7 minutes in the U.S. as a whole.
Why it's weird: Delawareans were less likely to be in poverty than other Americans (DE: 12.0%, US: 15.9%), and they were more likely to have health insurance before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (DE: 91.2%, US: 85.2%). However, Delaware had more vacant housing units than other states -- 17.1% for Delaware, as opposed to 12.4% in the nation overall.
Why it's normal: Median apartment rent in Arizona was at $US888, just four dollars more than the national median of $US884. 13.4% of Arizona's population was born in another country, close to the 13.0% rate for the U.S.
Why it's weird: Despite being close to the country as a whole on the proportion of residents born abroad, Arizona's foreign born residents were less likely to be naturalized citizens -- 60.7% of Arizona's foreign born population were non-citizens, while the national proportion was about 54.2%. The effects of the housing boom can also be seen clearly in Arizona - 27.1% of houses in Arizona were built since 2000, but only 15.8% of houses in the United States were that young.
Why it's normal: 29.0% of households in Indiana were families with children under the age of 18 -- the exact same proportion as in the United States. Indiana also had the exact same gender ratio as the country as a whole -- 50.8% of both Hoosiers and Americans were women.
Why it's weird: Indiana had a very small proportion of foreign-born residents -- only 4.6% came from abroad. Indiana also lagged the country in educational attainment -- 23.4% of Indianans over the age of 25 had at least a bachelor's degree, as opposed to 29.1% of Americans in the same age range.
Why it's normal: As with Indiana, the proportion of households with children tracked close to the national norm -- 28.9% of households in North Carolina, and 29.0% in the United States. 66.0% of houses in North Carolina had mortgages, as did 65.7% in the country overall.
Why it's weird: North Carolina had fewer foreign born residents than average -- 7.7% in North Carolina as opposed to 13.0% in America. Further, these residents were much less likely to be citizens -- 68% of North Carolina's foreign born population were non-citizens, compared to 54.2% nationwide.
Why it's normal: 85.1% of Oregonians had health insurance in 2012, as did 85.2% of Americans. Oregon's median apartment rent was $US862, close to the national median of $US884.
Why it's weird: Oregon had a much smaller black population than the U.S. -- only 1.7% of Oregonians identified as black or African American, compared to 12.3% in the nation as a whole. Oregonians were also a bit more likely to have recently moved to a new house -- 81.9% of Oregonians lived in the same house at the time they were surveyed as they did the year before, while 85.0% of Americans did.
Why it's normal: Illinois is a microcosm of America. On most of the indicators used, Illinois fell very close to the national total. Average household size was exactly the same for Illinois as for the country as a whole -- 2.64 people. The racial breakdown of Illinois was extremely similar to that of the United States -- the only exceptions were that people who identify as black or African American were slightly overrepresented(IL: 14.2%, US: 12.3%), and people who identify as some other race were underrepresented(IL: 0.2%, US: 1.1%).
Why it's weird: Illinois is mostly weird because of how close it is to the rest of the country. Very few of the indicators for Illinois are at all far from the national totals. Illinois did have slightly fewer veterans than the U.S. as a whole -- 7.5% as opposed to 8.9%. The commute in Illinois was also slightly longer than the national average -- 28 minutes for Illinois and 25.7 minutes for the entire country.