The Census Bureau has defined the Northeast region as comprising nine states: from northeast to southwest, they are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The region is subdivided into New England (the six states east of New York) and the Mid-Atlantic States (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania).
This definition has been essentially unchanged since 1880 and is widely used as a standard for data tabulation. The Census Bureau has acknowledged the limitations of this definition and the potential merits of a proposal created after the 1950 census that would include changing regional boundaries to include Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. with the Mid-Atlantic states, but ultimately decided that "the new system did not win enough overall acceptance among data users to warrant adoption as an official new set of general-purpose State groupings. The previous development of many series of statistics, arranged and issued over long periods of time on the basis of the existing State groupings, favored the retention of the summary units of the current regions and divisions." The Census Bureau confirmed in 1994 that it would continue to "review the components of the regions and divisions to ensure that they continue to represent the most useful combinations of States and State equivalents."
Many organizations and reference works follow the Census Bureau's definition for the region; however, other entities define the Northeastern United States in significantly different ways for various purposes. The Association of American Geographers divides the Northeast into two divisions- "New England", which consists of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the "Middle States", which consists of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Similarly, the Geological Society of America defines the Northeast as these same states but with the addition of Maryland and the District of Columbia. The narrowest definitions include only the states of New England. Other more restrictive definitions include New England and New York as part of the Northeast United States, but exclude Pennsylvania and New Jersey. States beyond the Census Bureau definition that other entities include in the Northeast United States are:Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West VirginiaDelaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, and VirginiaDelaware, and parts of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia (but excluding Washington, D.C. and surrounding area)OhioWest Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan
Anthropologists recognize the "Northeastern Woodlands" as one of the cultural regions that existed in the Western Hemisphere at the time of European colonists in the 15th and later centuries. Most did not settle in North America until the 17th century. The cultural area, known as the "Northeastern Woodlands", in addition to covering the entire Northeast U.S., also covered much of what is now Canada and others regions of what is now the eastern United States. Among the many tribes that inhabited this area were those that made up the Iroquois nations and the numerous Algonquian peoples. In the United States of the 21st century, 18 federally recognized tribes reside in the Northeast. For the most part, the people of the Northeastern Woodlands, on whose lands European fishermen began camping to dry their codfish in the early 1600s, lived in villages, especially after being influenced by the agricultural traditions of the Ohio and Mississippi valley societies.
All of the states making up the Northeastern region were among the original Thirteen Colonies, though Maine and Vermont were part of other colonies before the United States became independent in the American Revolution. The two cultural and geographic regions that form parts of the Northeastern region have distinct histories.
The first Europeans to settle New England were Pilgrims from England, who landed in present-day Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims arrived by the Mayflower ship and founded Plymouth Colony so they could practice religion freely. Ten years later, a larger group of Puritans settled north of Plymouth Colony in Boston to form Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1636, colonists established Connecticut Colony and Providence Plantations. Providence was founded by Roger Williams, who was banished by Massachusetts for his beliefs in freedom of religion, and it was the first colony to guarantee all citizens freedom of worship. Anne Hutchinson, who was also banished by Massachusetts, formed the town of Portsmouth. Providence, Portsmouth, and two other towns (Newport and Warwick) consolidated to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Although the first settlers of New England were motivated by religion, in more recent history, New England has become one of the least religious parts of the United States. In a 2009 Gallup survey, less than half of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts reported religion as an important part of their daily life. In a 2010 Gallup survey, less than 30% of residents in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts reported attending church weekly, giving them the lowest church attendance among U.S. states.
New England played a prominent role in early American education. Starting in the 17th century, the larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school. The first public school in the English colonies was the Boston Latin School, founded in 1635. In 1636, the colonial legislature of Massachusetts founded Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.
The first European explorer known to have explored the Atlantic shoreline of the Northeast since the Norse was Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. His ship La Dauphine explored the coast from what is now known as Florida to New Brunswick. Henry Hudson explored the area of present-day New York in 1609 and claimed it for the Netherlands. His journey stimulated Dutch interest, and the area became known as New Netherland. In 1625, the city of New Amsterdam (the location of present-day New York City) was designated the capital of the province. The Dutch New Netherland settlement along the Hudson River and, for a time, the New Sweden settlement along the Delaware River divided the English settlements in the north and the south. In 1664, Charles II of England formally annexed New Netherland and incorporated it into the English colonial empire. The territory became the colonies of New York and New Jersey. New Jersey was originally split into East Jersey and West Jersey until the two were united as a royal colony in 1702.
In 1681, William Penn, who wanted to give Quakers a land of religious freedom, founded Pennsylvania and extended freedom of religion to all citizens.
Penn strongly desired access to the sea for his Pennsylvania Province and leased what then came to be known as the "Lower Counties on the Delaware" from the Duke.
Penn established representative government and briefly combined his two possessions under one General Assembly in 1682. However, by 1704 the Province of Pennsylvania had grown so large that their representatives wanted to make decisions without the assent of the Lower Counties and the two groups of representatives began meeting on their own, one at Philadelphia, and the other at New Castle. Penn and his heirs remained proprietors of both and always appointed the same person Governor for their Province of Pennsylvania and their territory of the Lower Counties. The fact that Delaware and Pennsylvania shared the same governor was not unique. From 1703 to 1738, New York and New Jersey shared a governor. Massachusetts and New Hampshire also shared a governor for some time.
While most of the Northeastern United States lie in the Appalachian Highlands physiographic region, some are also part of the Atlantic coastal plain which extends south to the southern tip of Florida. The coastal plain areas (including Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Long Island in New York, most of New Jersey, Delaware, and the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland) are generally low and flat, with sandy soil and marshy land. The highlands, including the Piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains, are generally heavily forested, ranging from rolling hills to summits greater than 5,000 feet (1,500 m), and pocked with many lakes. The highest peak in the Northeast is Mount Washington (New Hampshire), at 6,288 feet (1,917 m).
As of 2007, forest-use covered approximately 60% of the Northeastern states (including Delaware, Maryland, and the District of Columbia), about twice the national average. About 12% was cropland and another 4% grassland pasture or range. There is also more urbanized land in the Northeast (11%) than any other region in the U.S.
The climate of the Northeastern United States varies from northernmost New England in Maine to southernmost New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The climate of the region is created by the position of the general west to east flow of weather in the middle latitudes that much of the central and northern USA is controlled by. Summers are normally warm in northern areas to hot in southern areas, while in winter the subtropical high Bermuda High retreats eastward, and the prevailing westerly flow of air masses combines with the polar jet stream to bring cold and frequent storm systems to the region. Annual mean temperatures range from the low 50s F from northern Maryland to southern Connecticut, to the 40s F in most of New York State, New England, and northern Pennsylvania.
The Northeast has 72 National Wildlife Refuges, encompassing more than 500,000 acres (780 sq mi; 2,000 km2) of habitat, and designed to protect some of the 92 different threatened and endangered species living in the region.
As of the July 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the population of the region totaled 55,943,073. With an average of 345.5 people per square mile, the Northeast is 2.5 times as densely populated as the second-most dense region, the South. Since the last century, the U.S. population has been shifting away from the Northeast (and Midwest) toward the South and West.
The two U.S. Census Bureau divisions in the Northeast (New England and Mid-Atlantic) rank #1 and #2 among the 9 divisions in population density according to the 2013 population estimate. The South Atlantic region (233.1) was very close behind New England (233.2). Due to the faster growth of the South Atlantic region, it will take over the #2 division rank in population density in the next estimate, dropping New England to 3rd position. New England is projected to retain the number 3 rank for many, many years, as the only other lower-ranked division with even half the population density of New England is the East North Central division (192.1) and this region's population is projected to grow slowly.
Below are the ten most populous metropolitan statistical areas, and the ten largest cities of the Census Bureau-defined region. Several of these cities in a narrow strip along the seaboard comprise the backbone of the Northeast megalopolis, excluding Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
As of 2012, the Northeast accounts for approximately 23% of U.S. gross domestic product.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission oversees 34 nuclear reactors, eight for research or testing and 26 for power production in the Northeastern United States.
New York City, considered a global financial center, is in the Northeast.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains 17 federal prisons and two affiliated private facilities in the region.
The following table includes all eight airports categorized by the FAA as large hubs located in the Northeastern states (New England and Eastern regions):
Geographer Wilbur Zelinsky asserts that the Northeast region lacks a unified cultural identity, but has served as a "culture hearth" for the rest of the nation. Several much smaller geographical regions within the Northeast do have distinct cultural identities.
Almost half of the National Historic Landmarks maintained by the National Park Service are located in the Northeastern United States.
According to a 2009 Gallup poll, the Northeastern states differ from most of the rest of the U.S. in religious affiliation, generally reflecting the descendants of immigration patterns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with many Catholics arriving from Ireland, Italy, and eastern Europe. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey are the only states in the nation where Catholics outnumber Protestants and other Christian denominations. More than 20% of respondents in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont declared no religious identity. Compared to other U.S. regions, the Northeast has the lowest regular religious service attendance and the fewest number of people for whom religion is an important part of their daily lives.
The Northeast region is home to several professional sports franchises in the "Big Four" leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB), with more than 100 championships collectively among them.New York metropolitan area: Giants, Jets (NFL), Yankees, Mets (MLB), Knicks, Nets (NBA), Rangers, Islanders, Devils (NHL)Philadelphia: Eagles (NFL), Phillies (MLB), 76ers (NBA), Flyers (NHL)Washington, D.C.: Redskins (NFL), Nationals (MLB), Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL)Boston: Patriots (NFL), Red Sox (MLB), Celtics (NBA), Bruins (NHL)Baltimore: Ravens (NFL), Orioles (MLB)Pittsburgh: Steelers (NFL), Pirates (MLB), Penguins (NHL)Buffalo: Bills (NFL), Sabres (NHL)
Major League Soccer features five Northeastern teams: D.C. United, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, and Philadelphia Union. The region also has three WNBA teams: Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics.
Notable golf tournaments in the Northeastern United States include the Deutsche Bank Championship, The Barclays, Quicken Loans National and Atlantic City LPGA Classic. The US Open, held at New York City, is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, whereas Washington Open is part of the ATP World Tour 500 series.
Notable Northeastern motorsports tracks include Watkins Glen International, Dover International Speedway, Pocono Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Lime Rock Park, which have hosted Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR and International Motor Sports Association races. Also, drag strips such as Englishtown, Epping, and Reading have hosted NHRA national events. Pimlico Race Course at Baltimore and Belmont Park at New York host the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes horse races, which are part of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing.
The region has also been noted for the relative prevalence of the traditionally Northeastern sports of ice hockey and lacrosse.
The rate of potentially preventable hospitalizations in the Northeastern United States fell from 2005 to 2011 for overall conditions, acute conditions, and chronic conditions.
The Northeastern United States tended to vote Republican in federal elections through the first half of the 20th century, but the region has since the 1990s shifted to become the most Democratic in the nation. Results from a 2008 Gallup poll indicated that eight of the top ten Democratic states were located in the region, with every Northeastern state having a Democratic party affiliation advantage of at least ten points. The following table demonstrates Democratic support in the Northeast as compared to the remainder of the nation.
The following table of United States presidential election results since 1900 illustrates that over the past six presidential elections, only three Northeastern states supported a Republican candidate (New Hampshire voted for George W. Bush in 2000; Pennsylvania and Maine's 2nd congressional district voted for Donald Trump in 2016). Bolded entries indicate that party's candidate also won the general election.
The following table shows the breakdown of party affiliation of governors, state legislative houses, and U.S. congressional delegation for the Northeastern states, as of 2017. (Demographics reflect registration-by-party figures from that state's registered voter statistics.)