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Geography

The 10 Most Populous U.S. States Compared to Foreign Countries

By Bennett Kleinman
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Home to over 335 million people, the United States is the world’s third-largest country by population size, and many of its individual states are home to far more residents than some entire independent nations. That begs the question: What countries come closest to the biggest states in terms of population numbers? Here are the 10 most populous states and which countries they compare most closely to. (And if you’re wondering about the largest states by land area, we’ve compared that, too.) 

10. Michigan – Tajikistan

Partially frozen Iskanderkul Lake in the Tajikistan mountains
Photo credit: Mohamed Waheed Aly/ Shutterstock

As America’s 10th-most populous state, Michigan is home to roughly 10 million people. The Wolverine State has a population density of approximately 178 people per square mile. Michigan’s population numbers are within striking distance of the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan. The landlocked country — bordering Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan — is home to around 10.2 million people and 188 individuals per square mile. Approximately 621,000 Michiganders reside in Detroit, which is the state’s most populous urban area. Tajikistan’s largest city is its capital, Dushanbe, which has around 779,000 residents.

9. North Carolina – Sweden

Colorful row homes along city square in Stockholm, Sweden
Photo credit: Mistervlad/ Shutterstock

Approximately 10.7 million individuals live in North Carolina, enough to make it America’s ninth-most populous state. Those numbers equate to a population density of roughly 214.7 people per square mile. The Tar Heel State’s total population most closely compares to the Scandinavian nation of Sweden, where there are 10.6 million residents. However, Sweden’s density is much more spread out, as there are only an average of 67 Swedes per square mile of land. Charlotte, where approximately 886,000 people reside, is North Carolina’s biggest city, while Raleigh is the state capital. Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm is also its largest city, with upwards of 1.5 million inhabitants.

8. Georgia – South Sudan

Aerial view of city park in Atlanta, Georgia, and skyscrapers in distance, lit at night
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

There are just shy of 11 million people living in the state of Georgia (not to be confused with the country of the same name, where only 3.7 million people live). Georgia’s population density is around 185.6 people per square mile. In terms of total population, the state of Georgia aligns most closely with the world’s newest country, South Sudan. Located in Central Africa, South Sudan has upwards of 11.1 million people and a population density of around 47 people per square mile. The largest city in Georgia is the capital of Atlanta (with a population of 499,000), while South Sudan’s most populous city is also its capital, Juba (population: 450,000).

7. Ohio – Haiti

Park, river, and skyscrapers in downtown Columbus, Ohio
Photo credit: f11photo/ Shutterstock

The Buckeye State is home to approximately 11.8 million people, with a population density of around 288.8 people per square mile. Ohio’s total population is about 35,000 people smaller than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. However, the island country’s population density is significantly higher than Ohio, with around 1,102 Haitians per square mile. The most populous city in Ohio is its capital of Columbus, with around 908,000 residents, followed by Cleveland (362,000) and Cincinnati (310,000). The most populous city in Haiti is its capital, Port-au-Prince, with an estimated population of around 987,000 people.

6. Illinois – Tunisia

Aerial view of Chicago River and skyscrapers
Photo credit: Rudy Balasko/ Shutterstock

About 12.6 million people call Illinois home, giving the state a density of approximately 230.8 residents per square mile. That puts Illinois within striking distance of the population of the North African country of Tunisia, where there are roughly 12.5 million residents and around 208 people living within each square mile. A sizable chunk of the Illinois population — some 2.6 million people — live in the city of Chicago, while only 113,000 people reside in the capital city of Springfield. In Tunisia, the largest city is the capital, Tunis, where around 693,000 people live.

5. Pennsylvania – Burundi

Barren tree and hut on stilts on beach on Lake Tanganyika in Burundi
Photo credit: mbrand85/ Shutterstock

The fifth-most populous state in the Union is Pennsylvania, which is home to around 13 million residents. That gives the Keystone State a population density of 290.6 people per square mile. Pennsylvania’s total population is closest in size to the Central African nation of Burundi, which is home to about 13.3 million people at a density of 1,335 people per square mile. Pennsylvania’s most populous city by far is Philadelphia, which has 1.6 million residents, followed by runner-up Pittsburgh, where about 303,000 people live. Burundi has two capital cities: Bujumbura (the economic capital) and Gitega (the political capital). The former is the most populous city in the country, with around 332,000 residents, while Gitega is home to roughly 135,000 people.

4. New York – Kazakhstan

Aerial view of paddle-boarder on river in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Photo credit: Pikoso.kz/ Shutterstock

More than 19 million people call New York home, giving the state a population density of 428.7 people per square mile. The closest country by comparison is Kazakhstan, a Central Asian nation where around 19.7 million people live. However, Kazakhstan’s population is far more distributed over the country’s vast area, with an average of only 19 people per square mile. The Empire State’s largest city is New York City, where over 8.3 million people live. New York’s capital, Albany, is home to just over 100,000 people. The most populous city in Kazakhstan is Almaty with around 2 million residents, while its capital — Astana — is home to roughly 346,000 people.

3. Florida – Sri Lanka

Red brick buildings in Tallahassee, Florida
Photo credit: felixmizioznikov/ iStock

There are approximately 22.2 million Floridians living in the Sunshine State, giving it a density around 401.4 people per square mile. That population closely compares to the island nation of Sri Lanka. Located just off the coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to slightly fewer than 22 million people, with around 904 people living within each square mile. Florida’s most populous city is Jacksonville, with 971,000 residents, while the capital city of Tallahassee is home to approximately 202,000 people. Colombo, the biggest city in Sri Lanka and the country’s financial hub, is home to roughly 5.6 million residents.

2. Texas – Madagascar

Exterior of the Queen's Palace in Antananarivo, Madagascar
Photo credit: Artush/ Shutterstock

There are upwards of 30 million people who reside in Texas, which makes it the second-most populous state in the country. Given its expansive land area, there are only an average of 111.6 people living in each square mile. Madagascar — the country closest in size to Texas — is home to approximately 150,000 residents more than the Lone State State, with roughly 135 people per square mile. Approximately 2.3 million people live in Houston, making it the largest city in Texas. The Malagasy capital city of Antananarivo is the largest city in Madagascar, with approximately 1.4 million residents.

1. California – Canada

Skyline of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo credit: Nick Fox/ Shutterstock

California is America’s most populous state. Home to just under 39 million individuals, the Golden State has a population density of 253.7 people per square mile. California’s size is roughly on par with the entire population of America’s northern neighbor, Canada. However, Canada is the world’s second-biggest country, covering 3.9 million square miles, so you’ll only find around 11 Canucks per square mile. California contains two cities with upwards of a million residents: Los Angeles (3.8 million) and San Diego (1.4 million). The entire country of Canada is only home to three cities with upwards of a million residents: Toronto (2.6 million), Montreal (1.6 million), and Calgary (just over 1 million).

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