10 Most Densely Populated Cities in the US (2023)
Population density measures the number of persons per square mile. While it sometimes goes hand in hand with the total number of people, it isn’t always the case, as you’ll soon see. Many of the largest cities have one or more rings of suburbs, which can skew the figures. Our guide looks at the raw numbers, regardless of the stats.
Population density offers insights into urban planning, services, and other fields. Remember that it captures a moment in time. Cities may annex new properties, and, of course, people may move in and out of an area. To put our data in context, the current population density for the United States is 93.8 persons per square mile.
The 10 Most Densely Populated Cities in the US
1. New York City, NY
It probably comes as no surprise that New York City is at the top of our list. The difference is shocking when you compare its population density with the United States. The city has made excellent use of its vertical space to provide homes for those who want to live there. Our figures show that people still want to live in the Big Apple.
- 2020 Population: 8,804,190
- 2020 Population Density: 29,303.2
- 2010 Population: 8,175,133
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +7.7%
2. Jersey City, NJ
Located on the Hudson River, Jersey City, NJ has had a long time to build its population base, being founded in 1630. Trade and services are its biggest industries. It’s less than 6 miles from Manhattan, offering residents plenty of things to do. Its convenient location has earned it the nickname “the sixth borough.”
- 2020 Population: 292,412
- 2020 Population Density: 19,835.1
- 2010 Population: 247,597
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +18%
3. San Francisco, CA
San Francisco, CA shows that if you have a beautiful location on the water, people will flock to your city, making it the quintessential melting pot. Like NYC, there is so much to do, whether you want fine dining, top-notch cultural attractions, or just a walk on the waterfront. Of course, it’s also the nation’s hub for scientific and technical services.
- 2020 Population: 873,965
- 2020 Population Density: 18,629.1
- 2010 Population: 805,235
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +8.5%
4. Boston, MA
Boston, MA has attracted some of the most brilliant writers in history, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Henry David Thoreau. It’s easy to see why. The music, culture, and food are iconic on an international scale. The city does an excellent job of managing its resources, making it a tourist mecca.
- 2020 Population: 675,647
- 2020 Population Density: 13,976.7
- 2010 Population: 617,594
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +9.4$
5. Newark, NJ
Newark, NJ is the state’s largest city. It’s less than 12 miles from Manhattan, making it an ideal location for many international businesses, including Audible.com and Panasonic Corporation of North America. It has a full slate of cultural offerings, including the must-see Grammy Museum Experience. It has many recreational opportunities, despite its large size and population density.
- 2020 Population: 311,549
- 2020 Population Density: 12,903.8
- 2010 Population: 277,140
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +12.4%
6. Miami, FL
It’s no wonder why people choose Miami, FL, as a tourist destination, with its tropical climate and must-see attractions. Of course, that also means Hollywood productions. There’s a good reason why TV shows such as The Golden Girls and Miami Vice were filmed in this beautiful city. The food scene is incredible, with international influences to satisfy any palate.
- 2020 Population: 442,241
- 2020 Population Density: 12,285.8
- 2010 Population: 399,457
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +10.7%
7. Chicago, IL
Frank Sinatra had it right when he sang of Chicago, IL being “My Kind of Town.” It’s a popular location for events and conventions with its gorgeous waterfront, high-energy nightlife, and cultural attractions. Sports fans have plenty to cheer about, too, with the city’s NFL Bears, MLB Cubs, and White Sox. There is a vibrant theater and music scene, bringing in international talent.
- 2020 Population: 2,746,388
- 2020 Population Density: 12,059.8
- 2010 Population: 2,695,598
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +1.8%
8. Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia, PA has historical significance for the United States, making it a natural choice to get in touch with our country’s past. Visitors and residents can walk in the footsteps of our founding fathers and see national treasures, such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. There’s no shortage of cultural attractions, either. Philly is also well-known for its higher education.
- 2020 Population: 1,603,797
- 2020 Population Density: 11,936.9
- 2010 Population: 1,526,006
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +5.1%
9. Berkeley, CA
Located less than 6 miles from Oakland, Berkeley, CA has a lot to offer, starting with the University of California, Berkeley. The institution is one of the most prestigious research universities in the country. It’s been a leader in engineering and science on an international scale. It also accounts for the large population density. It may not have millions of residents, but the stats tell the story.
- 2020 Population: 124,321
- 2020 Population Density: 11,917.3
- 2010 Population: 112,580
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: +10.4%
10. Santa Ana, CA
Santa Ana, CA is the last of three California cities on our list. It’s a short drive to Los Angeles, offering a warm semi-arid climate despite its location. It is close to many nearby attractions, such as Knott’s Berry Farm and many of the area’s most popular beaches. Visitors will find many recreational opportunities for activities like surfing and boating.
- 2020 Population: 309,227
- 2020 Population Density: 11,347.4
- 2010 Population: 324,528
- % Change 2020 vs. 2010: -4.8%
Factors Influencing Population Density
You may have noticed the cities with the highest population densities are located on a coast or a major water body. According to the NOAA Office for Coastal Management, nearly 40% of Americans live on coastline property. It’s understandable with the undoubtedly stunning views they enjoy. Perhaps we’re drawn to these places because of the necessity of water for survival.
Nevertheless, this preference means the population density is over five times the average figure. This concentration of people puts an enormous environmental strain on the land with far-reaching consequences. That’s saying nothing about the infrastructure needs and the social implications. However, enjoying a water view isn’t the only reason Americans move.
The pandemic had unimaginable consequences that seemed to morph and grow every day. One of the most significant was the rise of remote work. About 71% of employees who could do their job from home did so. A funny thing happened when this shift occurred. People realized they didn’t have to live in big cities anymore. As long as they had Internet access, they could work remotely.
The biggest spikes in population and, thus, density occurred in smaller towns, with larger cities losing residents. People began moving to states with lower population densities, such as Texas, Arizona, and Florida. What will be interesting is to update this article with the next round of census data and see how the changes played out in the country’s population.
Population density is a helpful figure you should keep on your radar if you plan to move. It can tell you the lineup of services you can expect, along with insights into housing costs. Bigger isn’t always better, as many people found out in the aftermath of the pandemic. It was a hard lesson many learned that could have profound implications for future development.
Featured Image Credit: Leonhard_Niederwimmer, Pixabay
- 1 The 10 Most Densely Populated Cities in the US
- 2 Factors Influencing Population Density
- 3 Conclusion