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Historic Sites
Economic Aspects


Federal Lands
State and Interstate


Division of Responsibility


Educational Opportunities

Recreational Use of Land in the United States

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Population Trends

Total Growth of Population.—The growth of population in the United States during the past 150 years has been phenomenal. It has risen from about 4,000,000 in 1790 to approximately 123,000,000 in 1930, or over thirty-fold. The increase in the decade 1920—30 was 17,064,426, the largest growth ever recorded.1 The rate of increase, however, has been declining since 1860. Prior to that time the average decennial increase had been about 35 percent. The probabilities are that the growth of the population in the future will be small. "Continuation of recent trends would mean that the population probably will he between 132,500,000 and 134,000,000 in 1940, between 140,500,000 and 145,000,000 in 1950, and between 145,000,000 and 170,000,000 in 1980."2

1 U. S. Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States 1930, Population, Vol. 1, Number and Distribution of Inhabitants. (See p. 6.)

2 President's Research Committee on Social Trends, Recent Social Trends in the United States, New York. McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1923. 2 vols., tables, charts. (See p. 2.)

Natural Increase of Population.—The trend in the natural increase of the population of the United States is very disquieting to those who believe that a high birth rate is necessary to the national welfare. The total birth rate has been falling since the population has become so highly urbanized. The birth rate is declining in the country, but to a lesser degree than in the cities. The percentage of children under 5 years of age has fallen greatly since 1870. In that year the number of children under 5 years of age was 14.3 percent of the total population, while in 1930 it was only 9.3 percent. The limiting of immigration; later marriages by reason of higher standards of living; increasing number of women in commercial, industrial and professional life; the deterrent biologic influences of an urban environment; increasing knowledge of birth control; and the fact children are more likely to prove to be expensive liabilities than economic assets under urban conditions, are some of the factors in the declining birth rate. The rate per thousand in 1930 was 18.963 and has fallen from 27.63 per thousand since 1910. The decline in birth rate has been steady and almost continuous since 1924.

3 Willcox, Walter, Introduction to the Vital Statistics of the United Stales, 1900—30, U. S. Bureau of the Census, 138 pp. (See p. 78.)

It is reported that the number of 6-year-old children is now practically stationary; that the enrollment in the first grade of the schools has declined since 1918, in the second grade since 1923, and in the third grade since 1925.4 The percentage of the total population in the age groups 5-9, 10-14, 15-19 years has declined since 1900. This, taken with the previous statement concerning the marked decline of the percentage of the total population of the age group under 5 years means, of course, that the proportion of older people in the population is increasing.

4 Phillips, Frank M., Statistical Survey of Education, 1925—26, U. S. Bureau of Education, Bulletin No. 12, 1928. (Quoted in What About the Year 2000? American Civic Association, 1928.)

On the other hand "the death rate in the United States has been falling for at least half a century * * * The death rate of the United States as a whole in 1900 was not far from 18, in 1930 not far from 12, per thousand", the most remarkable decrease occurring in urban communities.5 The urban and rural death rate are now approximately the same. "The death rate of males is about one-sixth higher than that of females * * * The most marked fall in the death rate between 1900 and 1930 was at the age period 1 to 4 which in 1930 was about one-fourth of the 1900 rate * * * The death rate at ages below 30 fell by more than one-half, at higher ages by less than one-half * * * The death rate of girls and women at every age fell faster than that of boys and men. * * * The death rates of Whites and Negroes decreased at about the same rate but at ages above 35 the death rate of the Negroes Was higher in 1930 than in 1900."6

5Willcox, Walter. Introduction to the Vital Statistics of the United States, 1900-1980, U.S. Bureau of the Census, 138 pp. (See pp. 3—4.)

6Willcox, Walter, op. cit., pp. 3—4.

Growth by Race and Nativity.—Present trends as to population growth among native whites, foreign-born whites, and Negroes show the native whites will increase faster than the Negroes, and that the foreign-born whites will decline. In 1930 Negroes constituted 9.7 percent of the total population as compared with 10.7 percent in 1910. In 1930 the native whites constituted 77.8 percent of the population as compared with 74.2 percent in 1910, while the foreign-born whites were only 10.9 percent of the population in 1930 as compared with 14.3 percent in 1910.7 These trends have a very definite bearing on recreation area planning.

Geographic Distribution.—The land area of the United States comprises 2,973,776 square miles or 1,903,216,640 acres. The gross area of the continental United States8 is 3,026,789 square miles of land and water or 1,973,144,960 acres. Within the confines of this huge area dwell 122,775,046 people.9 The distribution of the population throughout the United States is very uneven, as the following general table of distribution by geographic areas will show.

7 President's Research Committee on Social Trends, op. cit., p. 6.

8 Editor's note: The 48 States and District of Columbia.

9 United States Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population, op. cit., p. 5.

TABLE I.—Table showing distribution of population by geographical divisions1
Geographic divisions Population
Percent of
Land area
square miles
Percent of
land area
New England 8,166,3416.6561,9762.08
Middle Atlantic 26,260,75021.39100,0003.36
East North Central 25,297,18520.61245,5648.26
West North Central 13,296,91510.83510,80417.18
South Atlantic 15,793,58912.86239,0739.05
East South Central 9,887,2148.05179,5096.04
West South Central 12,176,8309.92429,74614.45
Mountain 3,701,7893.62859,00928.88
Pacific 8,194,4336.67318,09510.70
     Total 122,775,046100.002,973,776100.00
1 United States Bureau of the Census, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population Vol. 1, op. cit., p. 13, table 7.

The New England, Middle Atlantic, and East North Central divisions comprise only a little more than 13 percent of the total land area, but have almost 48.9 percent of the total population of the Nation. At the other extreme are the Mountain and Pacific divisions with 40 percent of the land area and only about 10 percent of the total population.

The Mountain division shows the widest divergence between area and population, including only 3 percent of the total population of the Nation, while comprising 28 percent of the total land area.

The greatest regional density per square mile is in the Middle Atlantic States (262.6 per square mile), with the New England States next (131.8), and the East North Central States third (103.0). The ranking States in density of population per square mile are Rhode Island (644.3 per square mile), New Jersey (537.8), Massachusetts (528.6), Connecticut (333.4), New York (264.2), and Pennsylvania (214.8). The population center is in Indiana, while the geographic center is in Kansas, some 600 miles westward of the center of population.

In the three States of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont the average density of population per square mile is less than the average density per square mile in the Nation, the heavy concentration of population being in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In New York State more than one—half of the total population is in one large city (New York City), and in New Jersey the greater portion of the population is in the northern part of the State.

in 1930 only four regions showed a percentage growth in population larger than the percentage growth of the country as a whole, these being the Middle Atlantic, East North Central, West South Central, and Pacific. New England's percentage of growth has been declining since 1900; the Mountain section's since 1910; the West North Central's since 1880; the South Atlantic's since 1900; the East South Central's has declined since 1900, falling to 5.7 percent increase in 1920 and then rising to 11.2 percent in 1930. Only 17 of the 48 States made an increase in growth higher than the percentage of growth for the country as a whole, and only 9 States made as much as 20 percent. increase or more (New York, New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Oregon, and California). Manufacturing was the determining factor in the increase in four of these (New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and North Carolina); climate was a determining factor in two, and an important factor in two others (Florida and California, Arizona and Oregon, respectively). In Texas the determining factor was probably the expansion of cotton growing and the production of oil. There were 18 of the States in which the growth was less than 10 percent (Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, and Idaho). Four of these were semi-industrial States, and the remainder agricultural. Montana was the only State which decreased in population.10

10 United States Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population, Vol. 1, op. cit., p. 12.

The chief significance of these factors concerning the geographic distribution of the population is to show where special attention should be concentrated in planning for the reservation of lands and waters, if the people are to have adequate and frequent opportunities for outdoor recreation.

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