LocationNorth West Europe
Area229,848 km2 (88,744.8 sq. mi)
Highest elevation1,344 m (4,409 ft.)
Highest pointBen Nevis
Density277 /km2 (717 /sq. mi)
Great Britain or Britain (Welsh: Prydain Fawr, Scottish Gaelic: Breatainn Mhòr, Cornish: Breten Veur) is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, the largest European island, and the largest of the British Isles. With a population of about 60.0 million people in mid-2009, it is the third most populous island in the world, after Java and Honshū. Great Britain is surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets. The island of Ireland lies to its west. Politically, Great Britain may also refer to the island itself together with a number of surrounding islands which comprise the territory of England, Scotland and Wales. All of the island is territory of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and most of the United Kingdom's territory is in Great Britain. Most of England, Scotland, and Wales are on the island of Great Britain, as are their respective capital cities: London, Edinburgh, and Cardiff.
The Kingdom of Great Britain resulted from the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland with the Acts of Union 1707 on 1 May 1707 under Queen Anne. In 1801, under a new Act of Union, this kingdom merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. After the Irish War of Independence most of Ireland seceded from the Union, which then became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The relatively limited variety of fauna and flora on the island is due to its size and the fact that wildlife has had little time to develop since the last glacial period. The high level of urbanisation on the island has contributed to a species extinction rate that is about 100 times greater than the background species extinction rate.
Great Britain is the largest island of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Politically, Great Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales in combination and therefore also includes a number of outlying islands such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides, and the island groups of Orkney and Shetland. It does not include the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands which are not part of the United Kingdom, instead being self-governing dependent territories of that state with their own legislative and taxation systems.
The political union that joined the kingdoms of England and Scotland happened in 1707 when the Acts of Union ratified the 1706 Treaty of Union and merged the parliaments of the two nations, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain, which covered the entire island. Prior to this, a personal union had existed between these two countries since the 1603 Union of the Crowns under James VI of Scotland and I of England.
Great Britain lies to the northwest of Continental Europe and east of Ireland. It is separated from the continent by the North Sea and by the English Channel, which narrows to 34 kilometers (21 mi) at the Straits of Dover. It stretches over about ten degrees of latitude on its longer, north-south axis, and occupies an area of 209,331 km2 (80,823 sq. mi), excluding all the smaller surrounding islands of the archipelago. The North Channel, Irish Sea, St George's Channel and Celtic Sea separate the island from the island of Ireland to its west. The island is physically connected with continental Europe via the Channel Tunnel, the longest undersea rail tunnel in the world which was completed in 1993. Geographically, the island is marked by low, rolling countryside in the east and south, while hills and mountains predominate in the western and northern regions. It is surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets. The greatest distance between two points is 968 km / 601.5 miles (between Land's End, Cornwall and John O'Groats, Caithness), or 1,349 km / 838 miles using the national road network.
The English Channel is thought to have been created between 450,000 and 180,000 years ago by two catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods caused by the breaching of the Weald-Artois Anticline, a ridge which held back a large proglacial lake, now submerged under the North Sea. Around 10,000 years ago, during the Devensian glaciation with its lower sea level, Great Britain was not an island, but an upland region of northwestern Europe, lying partially underneath the Eurasian ice sheet. The sea level was about 120 meters (390 ft.) lower than today, and the bed of the North Sea was dry and acted as a land bridge to Europe, now known as Doggerland. It is generally thought that as sea levels gradually rose after the end of the last glacial period of the current ice age, Doggerland became submerged beneath the North Sea, cutting off what was previously the British peninsula from the European mainland by around 6500 BC.
The island was first inhabited by people who crossed over the land bridge from the European mainland. Traces of early humans have been found (at Boxgrove Quarry, Sussex) from some 500,000 years ago and modern humans from about 30,000 years ago. Until about 10,000 years ago, Great Britain was joined to Ireland, and as recently as 8,000 years ago it was joined to the continent by a strip of low marsh to what is now Denmark and the Netherlands. In Cheddar Gorge, near Bristol, the remains of animal species native to mainland Europe such as antelopes, brown bears, and wild horses have been found alongside a human skeleton, 'Cheddar Man', dated to about 7150 BC. Thus, animals and humans must have moved between mainland Europe and Great Britain via a crossing. Great Britain became an island at the end of the Pleistocene ice age when sea levels rose due to isostatic depression of the crust and the melting of glaciers.
According to John T. Koch and others, Britain in the Late Bronze Age was part of a maritime trading-networked culture called the Atlantic Bronze Age that also included Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal where Celtic languages developed, but this stands in contrast to the more generally accepted view that Celtic origins lie with the Hallstatt culture.
Its Iron Age inhabitants are known as the Britons, a group speaking a Celtic language. The Romans conquered most of the island (up to Hadrian's Wall, in northern England) and this became the Ancient Roman province of Britannia. For 500 years after the Roman Empire fell, the Britons of the south and east of the island were assimilated or displaced by invading Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, often referred to collectively as Anglo-Saxons). At about the same time, Gaelic tribes from Ireland invaded the north-west, absorbing both the Picts and Britons of northern Britain, eventually forming the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. The south-east of Scotland was colonised by the Angles and formed, until 1018, a part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Ultimately, the population of south-east Britain came to be referred to, after the Angles, as the English people.
Germanic speakers referred to Britons as Welsh. This term eventually came to be applied exclusively to the inhabitants of what is now Wales, but it also survives in names such as Wallace, and in the second syllable of Cornwall. Cymry, a name the Britons used to describe themselves, is similarly restricted in modern Welsh to people from Wales, but also survives in English in the place name of Cumbria. The Britons living in the areas now known as Wales, Cumbria and Cornwall were not assimilated by the Germanic tribes, a fact reflected in the survival of Celtic languages in these areas into more recent times. At the time of the Germanic invasion of Southern Britain, many Britons emigrated to the area now known as Brittany, where Breton, a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and Cornish and descended from the language of the emigrants, is still spoken. In the 9th century, a series of Danish assaults on northern English kingdoms led to them coming under Danish control (an area known as the Danelaw). In the 10th century, however, all the English kingdoms were unified under one ruler as the kingdom of England when the last constituent kingdom, Northumbria, submitted to Edgar in 959. In 1066, England was conquered by the Normans, who introduced a French ruling élite that was eventually assimilated. Wales came under Anglo-Norman control in 1282, and was officially annexed to England in the 16th century.
On 20 October 1604 King James, who had succeeded separately to the two thrones of England and Scotland, proclaimed himself as "King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland". While that title was also used by many of his successors, England and Scotland each remained legally in existence as separate countries with their own parliaments until 1707, when each parliament passed an Act of Union to ratify the Treaty of Union that had been agreed the previous year. This had the effect of creating a united kingdom, with a single, united parliament, from 1 May 1707. Though the Treaty of Union referred to the new all-island state as the "United Kingdom of Great Britain", many regard the term 'United Kingdom' as being descriptive of the union rather than part of its formal name (which the Treaty stated was to be 'Great Britain' without further qualification.) Most reference books, therefore, describe the all-island kingdom that existed between 1707 and 1800 as the "Kingdom of Great Britain".
The oldest mention of terms related to the formal name of Britain was made by Aristotle (c. 384–322 BC), in his text On the Universe, Vol. III. To quote his works, "There are two very large islands in it, called the British Isles, Albion and lerne". The archipelago has been referred to by a single name for over 2,000 years: the term British Isles derives from terms used by classical geographers to describe this island group. Pliny the Elder (c. 23–79 AD) in his Natural History (iv.xvi.102) records of Great Britain: "It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae."
The earliest known name of Great Britain is Albion (Ἀλβίων) or insula Albionum, from either the Latin albus meaning white (referring to the white cliffs of Dover, the first view of Britain from the continent) or the "island of the Albiones", first mentioned in the Massaliote Periplus and by Pytheas. The name Britain descends from the Latin name for Britain, Britannia or Brittānia, the land of the Britons. Old French Bretaigne (whence also Modern French Bretagne) and Middle English Bretayne, авBreteyne. The French form replaced the Old English Breoton, Breoten, Bryten, Breten (also Breoton-lond, Breten-lond). Britannia was used by the Romans from the 1st century BC for the British Isles taken together. It is derived from the travel writings of the ancient Greek Pytheas around 320 BC, which described various islands in the North Atlantic as far north as Thule (probably Norway). The peoples of these islands of Prettanike were called the Πρέττανοι, Priteni or Pretani. Priteni is the source of the Welsh language term Prydain, Britain, which has the same source as the Goidelic term Cruithne used to refer to the early Brythonic speaking inhabitants of Ireland. The latter were later called Picts or Caledonians by the Romans.
Derivation of "Great"
After the Anglo-Saxon period, Britain was used as a historical term only. Geoffrey of Monmouth in his pseudohistorical Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) refers to the island of Great Britain as Britannia major ("Greater Britain"), to distinguish it from Britannia minor ("Lesser Britain"), the continental region which approximates to modern Brittany. The term Great Britain was first used officially in 1474, in the instrument drawing up the proposal for a marriage between Cecily the daughter of Edward IV of England, and James the son of James III of Scotland, which described it as "this Nobill Isle, callit Gret Britanee." As noted above it was used again in 1604, when King James VI and I styled himself "King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland."
Use of the term Great Britain
The term Great Britain can refer either to the largest island within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or to England, Scotland and Wales as a unit (including many smaller islands associated with these three countries). It does not include Northern Ireland.
The term Britain, as opposed to Great Britain, has been used to mean the United Kingdom, for example in official government yearbooks between 1975 and 2001. Since 2002, however, the yearbooks have only used the term "United Kingdom".
The initials GB or GBR are used in some international codes instead of the initials UK to refer to the United Kingdom. Examples include: Universal Postal Union[dead link], international sports teams, NATO, the International Organization for Standardization country codes ISO 3166-2 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-3, and international licence plate codes.
On the Internet, .uk is used as a country code top-level domain for the United Kingdom. A .gb top-level domain was also used to a limited extent in the past, but this is now effectively obsolete because the domain name registrar will not take new registrations.
The Robin is popularly known as "Britain's favourite bird".
Animal diversity is modest, as a result of factors including the island's small land area, the relatively recent age of the habitats developed since the last Ice Age and the island's physical separation from continental Europe, and the effects of seasonal variability. Great Britain also experienced early industrialisation and is subject to continuing urbanisation, which have contributed towards the overall loss of species. A defra study from 2006 suggested that 100 species have become extinct in the UK during the 20th century, about 100 times the background extinction rate. However, some species, such as the brown rat, red fox, and introduced grey squirrel, are well adapted to urban areas.
Rodents make up 40% of the total number of mammal species in Great Britain. These include squirrels, mice, voles, rats and the recently reintroduced European beaver. There is also an abundance of rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, shrews, moles and several species of bat. Carnivorous mammals include the fox, badger, otter, weasel, stoat and elusive wildcat. Various species of seal, whale and dolphin are found on or around British shores and coastlines. The largest land-based wild animals today are deer. The red deer is the largest species, with roe deer and fallow deer also prominent; the latter was introduced by the Normans. Sika deer and two more species of smaller deer, muntjac and Chinese water deer, have been introduced, muntjac becoming widespread in England and parts of Wales while Chinese water deer are restricted mainly to East Anglia. Habitat loss has affected many species. Extinct large mammals include the brown bear, grey wolf and wild boar; the latter has had a limited reintroduction in recent times.
There is a wealth of birdlife in Britain, 583 species in total, of which 258 breed on the island or remain during winter. Because of its mild winters for its latitude, Great Britain hosts important numbers of many wintering species, particularly ducks, geese and swans. Other well known bird species include the golden eagle, grey heron, kingfisher, pigeon, sparrow, pheasant, partridge, and various species of crow, finch, gull, auk, grouse, owl and falcon. There are six species of reptile on the island; three snakes and three lizards including the legless slow worm. One snake, the adder, is venomous but rarely deadly. Amphibians present are frogs, toads and newts.
Heather growing wild in the Highlands at Dornoch.
In a similar sense to fauna, and for similar reasons, the flora of Great Britain is impoverished compared to that of continental Europe. Great Britain's flora comprises 3,354 vascular plant species, of which 2,297 are native and 1,057 have been introduced into the island. The island has a wide variety of trees, including native species of birch, beech, ash, hawthorn, elm, oak, yew, pine, cherry and apple. Other trees have been naturalised, introduced especially from other parts of Europe (particularly Norway) and North America. Introduced trees include several varieties of pine, chestnut, maple, spruce, sycamore and fir, as well as cherry plum and pear trees. The tallest species are the Douglas firs; two specimens have been recorded measuring 65 metres or 212 feet. The Fortingall Yew in Perthshire is the oldest tree in Europe.
There are at least 1,500 different species of wildflower in Britain, some 107 species are particularly rare or vulnerable and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is illegal to uproot any wildflowers without the landowner's permission. A vote in 2002 nominated various wildflowers to represent specific counties. These include red poppies, bluebells, daisies, daffodils, rosemary, gorse, iris, ivy, mint, orchids, brambles, thistles, buttercups, primrose, thyme, tulips, violets, cowslip, heather and many more. There are also many species of algae, lichens, fungi and mosses across the island.
Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the Anglican Church – the island's largest denomination.
Christianity is the largest religion on the island and has been since the Early Middle Ages, though its existence on the island dates back to the Roman introduction in antiquity and continued through Early Insular Christianity. The largest form practised in present day Britain is Anglicanism (also known as Episcopalism in Scotland); dating from the 16th century Reformation, the religion regards itself as both Catholic and Reformed. Head of the Church is the monarch of the United Kingdom as the Supreme Governor. It has the status of established church in England. There are just over 26 million adherents to Anglicanism in Britain today, although the number of active adherents (those who regularly attend services) is only around one million. The second largest Christian practice in Britain is the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church which traces its formal, corporate history in Great Britain to the 6th century with Augustine's mission and was the main religion on the island for around a thousand years. There are over 5 million adherents in Britain today; 4.5 million in England and Wales and 750,000 in Scotland, although less than a million Catholics regularly attend mass.
Baitul Futuh – the largest mosque in Western Europe
The Church of Scotland, a form of Protestantism with a Presbyterian system of ecclesiastical polity is the third most numerous on the island with around 2.1 million members. Introduced in Scotland by clergyman John Knox, it has the status of national church in Scotland. The monarch of the United Kingdom is represented prominently by a Lord High Commissioner. Methodism is the fourth largest and grew out of Anglicanism through John Wesley. It gained popularity in the old mill towns of Lancashire and Yorkshire, also amongst tin miners in Cornwall. The Presbyterian Church of Wales, which follow Calvinistic Methodism, is the largest denomination in Wales. There are other non-conformist minorities, such as Baptists, Quakers, the United Reformed Church (a union of Congregationalists and English Presbyterians), Unitarians and more. The first patron saint of Great Britain was Saint Alban. He was the first Christian martyr dating from the Romano-British period, condemned to death for his faith and was sacrificed to the pagan gods. In more recent times, some have suggested the adoption of Saint Aidan as another patron saint of Britain. Originally from Ireland, he worked at Iona amongst the Dál Riata and then Lindisfarne where he restored Christianity to Northumbria.
The Swaminarayan Temple at Neasden, London - one of the largest Hindu Temples in Europe.
Three constituent countries of the United Kingdom located on the island have patron saints; Saint George and Saint Andrew are represented in the flags of England and Scotland respectively. These two saintly flags combined form the basis of the Great Britain royal flag of 1604. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. There are many other British saints, some of the best known include; Cuthbert, Columba, Patrick, Margaret, Edward the Confessor, Mungo, Thomas More, Petroc, Bede and Thomas Becket.
Numerous non-Christian religions are practised in Great Britain. Judaism has a history of a small minority on the island since 1070. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 until being allowed to return in 1656. Their history in Scotland is quite obscure until later migrations from Lithuania. Especially since the 1950s religions from the former colonies have become more prevalent; Islam is the most common of these with around 1.5 million adherents in Britain. A total of more than 1 million people practise either Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism, religions introduced from India and South East Asia.
The capitals of the three countries of the United Kingdom which comprise Great Britain are:
Other major cities:
The largest cities in Great Britain by urban area population (not including the capital cities listed above) are Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.
United States of America
Largest cityNew York City
Official language(s)None at federal level
National languageEnglish (de facto)
GovernmentFederal presidential constitutional republic
- PresidentBarack Obama (D)
- Vice PresidentJoe Biden (D)
- Speaker of the HouseJohn Boehner (R)
- Chief JusticeJohn Roberts
- Upper houseSenate
- Lower houseHouse of Representatives
Independencefrom the Kingdom of Great Britain
- DeclaredJuly 4, 1776
- RecognizedSeptember 3, 1783
- Current constitutionJune 21, 1788
- Total9,826,675 km2 (3rd/4th)
3,794,101 sq mi
- Water (%)6.76
- 2012 estimate313,201,000 (3rd)
CurrencyUnited States dollar ($) (USD)
Drives on theright
a. English is the official language of at least 28 states—some sources give a higher figure, based on differing definitions of "official". English and Hawaiian are both official languages in the state of Hawaii.
b. English is the de facto language of American government and the sole language spoken at home by 80% of Americans age five and older. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language.
c. Whether the United States or the People's Republic of China is larger is disputed. The figure given is from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Fact book. Other sources give smaller figures. All authoritative calculations of the country's size include only the 50 states and the District of Columbia, not the territories.
d. The population estimate includes people whose usual residence is in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, including noncitizens. It does not include either those living in the territories, amounting to more than 4 million U.S. citizens (most in Puerto Rico), or U.S. citizens living outside the United States.
The United States of America (also called the United States, the U.S., the USA, America, and the States) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district. The country is situated mostly in central North America, where its forty-eight contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the capital district, lie between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, bordered by Canada to the north and Mexico to the south. The state of Alaska is in the northwest of the continent, with Canada to the east and Russia to the west, across the Bering Strait. The state of Hawaii is an archipelago in the middle Pacific. The country also possesses several territories in the Pacific and Caribbean.
At 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and with over 312 million people, the United States is the third or fourth largest country by total area and the third largest by both land area and population. It is one of the world's most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration from many countries. The U.S. economy is the world's largest national economy, with an estimated 2011 GDP of $15.1 trillion (22% of nominal global GDP and over 19% of global GDP at purchasing-power parity). Per capita income is the world's seventh-highest.
Indigenous peoples descended from forebears who migrated from Asia have inhabited what is now the mainland United States for many thousands of years. This Native American population was greatly reduced by disease and warfare after European contact. The United States was founded by thirteen British colonies located along the Atlantic seaboard. On July 4, 1776, they issued the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed their right to self-determination and their establishment of a cooperative union. The rebellious states defeated the British Empire in the American Revolution, the first successful colonial war of independence.  The current United States Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787; its ratification the following year made the states part of a single republic with a strong central government. The Bill of Rights, comprising ten constitutional amendments guaranteeing many fundamental civil rights and freedoms, was ratified in 1791.
Through the 19th century, the United States displaced native tribes, acquired the Louisiana territory from France, Florida from Spain, part of the Oregon Country from the United Kingdom, Alta California and New Mexico from Mexico, and Alaska from Russia, and annexed the Republic of Texas and the Republic of Hawaii. Disputes between the agrarian South and industrial North over the expansion of the institution of slavery and states' rights provoked the Civil War of the 1860s. The North's victory prevented a permanent split of the country and led to the end of legal slavery in the United States. By the 1870s, its national economy was the world's largest. The Spanish–American War and World War I confirmed the country's status as a military power. It emerged from World War II as the first country with nuclear weapons and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole superpower. The country accounts for 41% of global military spending, and is a leading economic, political, and cultural force in the world.
In 1507, German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the lands of the Western Hemisphere "America" after Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci. The former British colonies first used the country's modern name in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, the "unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America". On November 15, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which states, "The Stile of this Confederacy shall be 'The United States of America'." The Franco-American treaties of 1778 used "United States of North America", but from July 11, 1778, "United States of America" was used on the country's bills of exchange, and it has been the official name ever since.
The short form "United States" is also standard. Other common forms include the "U.S.", the "USA", and "America". Colloquial names include the "U.S. of A." and, internationally, the "States". "Columbia", a once popular name for the United States, derives from Christopher Columbus; it appears in the name "District of Columbia".
The standard way to refer to a citizen of the United States is as an "American". Although "United States" is the official appositional term, "American" and "U.S." are more commonly used to refer to the country adjectivally ("American values", "U.S. forces"). "American" is rarely used in English to refer to people not connected to the United States.
The phrase "United States" was originally treated as plural—e.g., "the United States are"—including in the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1865. It became common to treat it as singular—e.g., "the United States is"—after the end of the Civil War. The singular form is now standard; the plural form is retained in the idiom "these United States".
Geography and environment
The land area of the contiguous United States is approximately 1,900 million acres (7,700,000 km2). Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 365 million acres (1,480,000 km2). Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, has just over 4 million acres (16,000 km2). The United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area (land and water), ranking behind Russia and Canada and just above or below China. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted and how the total size of the United States is measured: calculations range from 3,676,486 square miles (9,522,055 km2) to 3,717,813 square miles (9,629,091 km2) to 3,794,101 square miles (9,826,676 km2). Including only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada.
The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest. The Mississippi–Missouri River, the world's fourth longest river system, runs mainly north–south through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast. The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Mojave. The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast. At 20,320 feet (6,194 m), Alaska's Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the country and in North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska's Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature.
The bald eagle, national bird of the United States since 1782.
The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the 100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south. The southern tip of Florida is tropical, as is Hawaii. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi-arid. Much of the Western mountains are alpine. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Extreme weather is not uncommon—the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world's tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in the Midwest's Tornado Alley.
The U.S. ecology is considered "megadiverse": about 17,000 species of vascular plants occur in the contiguous United States and Alaska, and over 1,800 species of flowering plants are found in Hawaii, few of which occur on the mainland. The United States is home to more than 400 mammal, 750 bird, and 500 reptile and amphibian species. About 91,000 insect species have been described. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. There are fifty-eight national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Altogether, the government owns 28.8% of the country's land area. Most of this is protected, though some is leased for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging, or cattle ranching; 2.4% is used for military purposes.
The United States is a federal union of fifty states. The original thirteen states were the successors of the thirteen colonies that rebelled against British rule. Early in the country's history, three new states were organized on territory separated from the claims of the existing states: Kentucky from Virginia; Tennessee from North Carolina; and Maine from Massachusetts. Most of the other states have been carved from territories obtained through war or purchase by the U.S. government. One set of exceptions comprises Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii: each was an independent republic before joining the union. During the American Civil War, West Virginia broke away from Virginia. The most recent state—Hawaii—achieved statehood on August 21, 1959. The states do not have the right to secede from the union.
The states compose the vast bulk of the U.S. land mass; the two other areas considered integral parts of the country are the District of Columbia, the federal district where the capital, Washington, is located; and Palmyra Atoll, an uninhabited but incorporated territory in the Pacific Ocean. The United States also possesses five major overseas territories: Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in the Caribbean; and American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific. Those born in the major territories (except for American Samoa) possess U.S. citizenship. American citizens residing in the territories have many of the same rights and responsibilities as citizens residing in the states; however, they are generally exempt from federal income tax, may not vote for president, and have only nonvoting representation in the U.S. Congress.
The indigenous peoples of the U.S. mainland, including Alaska Natives, are believed to have migrated from Asia, beginning between 40,000 and 12,000 years ago. Some, such as the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, developed advanced agriculture, grand architecture, and state-level societies. After Europeans began settling the Americas, many millions of indigenous Americans died from epidemics of imported diseases such as smallpox.
The Mayflower transported Pilgrims to the New World in 1620, as depicted in William Halsall's. The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, 1882.
In 1492, Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus, under contract to the Spanish crown, reached several Caribbean islands, making first contact with the indigenous people. On April 2, 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León landed on what he called "La Florida"—the first documented European arrival on what would become the U.S. mainland. Spanish settlements in the region were followed by ones in the present-day southwestern United States that drew thousands through Mexico. French fur traders established outposts of New France around the Great Lakes; France eventually claimed much of the North American interior, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The first successful English settlements were the Virginia Colony in Jamestown in 1607 and the Pilgrims' Plymouth Colony in 1620. The 1628 chartering of the Massachusetts Bay Colony resulted in a wave of migration; by 1634, New England had been settled by some 10,000 Puritans. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, about 50,000 convicts were shipped to Britain's American colonies. Beginning in 1614, the Dutch settled along the lower Hudson River, including New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.
In 1674, the Dutch ceded their American territory to England; the province of New Netherland was renamed New York. Many new immigrants, especially to the South, were indentured servants—some two-thirds of all Virginia immigrants between 1630 and 1680. By the turn of the 18th century, African slaves were becoming the primary source of bonded labor. With the 1729 division of the Carolinas and the 1732 colonization of Georgia, the thirteen British colonies that would become the United States of America were established. All had local governments with elections open to most free men, with a growing devotion to the ancient rights of Englishmen and a sense of self-government stimulating support for republicanism. All legalized the African slave trade. With high birth rates, low death rates, and steady immigration, the colonial population grew rapidly. The Christian revivalist movement of the 1730s and 1740s known as the Great Awakening fueled interest in both religion and religious liberty. In the French and Indian War, British forces seized Canada from the French, but the francophone population remained politically isolated from the southern colonies. Excluding the Native Americans (popularly known as "American Indians"), who were being displaced, those thirteen colonies had a population of 2.6 million in 1770, about one-third that of Britain; nearly one in five Americans were black slaves. Though subject to British taxation, the American colonials had no representation in the Parliament of Great Britain.
Independence and expansion
Declaration of Independence, by John Trumbull, 1817–18
Tensions between American colonials and the British during the revolutionary period of the 1760s and early 1770s led to the American Revolutionary War, fought from 1775 to 1781. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress, convening in Philadelphia, established a Continental Army under the command of George Washington. Proclaiming that "all men are created equal" and endowed with "certain unalienable Rights", the Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1776. That date is now celebrated annually as America's Independence Day. In 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a weak confederal government that operated until 1789.
After the British defeat by American forces assisted by the French and Spanish, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States and the states' sovereignty over American territory west to the Mississippi River. Those wishing to establish a strong federal government with powers of taxation organized a constitutional convention in 1787. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, and the new republic's first Senate, House of Representatives, and president—George Washington—took office in 1789. The Bill of Rights, forbidding federal restriction of personal freedoms and guaranteeing a range of legal protections, was adopted in 1791. Attitudes toward slavery were shifting; a clause in the Constitution protected the transatlantic slave trade only until 1808. The Northern states abolished slavery between 1780 and 1804, leaving the slave states of the South as defenders of the "peculiar institution". The Second Great Awakening, beginning about 1800, made evangelicalism a force behind various social reform movements, including abolitionism.
Territorial acquisitions by date
Americans' eagerness to expand westward prompted a long series of Indian Wars. The Louisiana Purchase of French-claimed territory under President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 almost doubled the nation's size. The War of 1812, declared against Britain over various grievances and fought to a draw, strengthened U.S. nationalism. A series of U.S. military incursions into Florida led Spain to cede it and other Gulf Coast territory in 1819. The Trail of Tears in the 1830s exemplified the Indian removal policy that stripped the native peoples of their land. The United States annexed the Republic of Texas in 1845, amid a period when the concept of Manifest Destiny was becoming popular. The 1846 Oregon Treaty with Britain led to U.S. control of the present-day American Northwest. The U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War resulted in the 1848 cession of California and much of the present-day American Southwest. The California Gold Rush of 1848–49 further spurred western migration. New railways made relocation easier for settlers and increased conflicts with Native Americans. Over a half-century, up to 40 million American bison, or buffalo, were slaughtered for skins and meat and to ease the railways' spread. The loss of the buffalo, a primary resource for the plains Indians, was an existential blow to many native cultures.
Civil War and industrialization
Battle of Gettysburg, lithograph by Currier & Ives, ca. 1863
Tensions between slave and free states mounted with arguments about the relationship between the state and federal governments, as well as violent conflicts over the spread of slavery into new states. Abraham Lincoln, candidate of the largely antislavery Republican Party, was elected president in 1860. Before he took office, seven slave states declared their secession—which the federal government maintained was illegal—and formed the Confederate States of America. With the Confederate attack upon Fort Sumter, the Civil War began and four more slave states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared slaves in the Confederacy to be free. Following the Union victory in 1865, three amendments to the U.S. Constitution ensured freedom for the nearly four million African Americans who had been slaves, made them citizens, and gave them voting rights. The war and its resolution led to a substantial increase in federal power. The war remains the deadliest conflict in American history, resulting in the deaths of 620,000 soldiers.
Immigrants at Ellis Island, New York Harbor, 1902
After the war, the assassination of Lincoln radicalized Republican Reconstruction policies aimed at reintegrating and rebuilding the Southern states while ensuring the rights of the newly freed slaves. The resolution of the disputed 1876 presidential election by the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction; Jim Crow laws soon disenfranchised many African Americans. In the North, urbanization and an unprecedented influx of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe hastened the country's industrialization. The wave of immigration, lasting until 1929, provided labor and transformed American culture. National infrastructure development spurred economic growth. The 1867 Alaska Purchase from Russia completed the country's mainland expansion. The Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 was the last major armed conflict of the Indian Wars. In 1893, the indigenous monarchy of the Pacific Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup led by American residents; the United States annexed the archipelago in 1898. Victory in the Spanish–American War the same year demonstrated that the United States was a world power and led to the annexation of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The Philippines gained independence a half-century later; Puerto Rico and Guam remain U.S. territories.
World War I, Great Depression, and World War II
An abandoned farm in South Dakota during the Dust Bowl, 1936
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the United States remained neutral. Most Americans sympathized with the British and French, although many opposed intervention. In 1917, the United States joined the Allies, and the American Expeditionary Forces helped to turn the tide against the Central Powers. After the war, the Senate did not ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which established the League of Nations. The country pursued a policy of unilateralism, verging on isolationism. In 1920, the women's rights movement won passage of a constitutional amendment granting women's suffrage. The prosperity of the Roaring Twenties ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. After his election as president in 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a range of policies increasing government intervention in the economy, including the establishment of the Social Security system. The Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s impoverished many farming communities and spurred a new wave of western migration.
Soldiers of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division landing in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944
The United States, effectively neutral during World War II's early stages after Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939, began supplying materiel to the Allies in March 1941 through the Lend-Lease program. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, prompting the United States to join the Allies against the Axis powers as well as the internment of Japanese Americans by the thousands. Participation in the war spurred capital investment and industrial capacity. Among the major combatants, the United States was the only nation to become richer—indeed, far richer—instead of poorer because of the war. Allied conferences at Bretton Woods and Yalta outlined a new system of international organizations that placed the United States and Soviet Union at the center of world affairs. As victory was won in Europe, a 1945 international conference held in San Francisco produced the United Nations Charter, which became active after the war. The United States, having developed the first nuclear weapons, used them on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August. Japan surrendered on September 2, ending the war.
Cold War and protest politics
Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech, 1963
The United States and Soviet Union jockeyed for power after World War II during the Cold War, dominating the military affairs of Europe through NATO and the Warsaw Pact, respectively. While they engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict. Resisting leftist land and income redistribution projects around the world, the United States often supported authoritarian governments. American troops fought Communist Chinese forces in the Korean War of 1950–53. The House Un-American Activities Committee pursued a series of investigations into suspected leftist subversion, while Senator Joseph McCarthy became the figurehead of anticommunist sentiment.
The 1961 Soviet launch of the first manned spaceflight prompted President John F. Kennedy's call for the United States to be first to land "a man on the moon", achieved in 1969. Kennedy also faced a tense nuclear showdown with Soviet forces in Cuba. Meanwhile, the United States experienced sustained economic expansion. A growing civil rights movement symbolized and led by African Americans such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., used nonviolence to confront segregation and discrimination. Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He also signed into law the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, expanded a proxy war in Southeast Asia into the unsuccessful Vietnam War. A widespread countercultural movement grew, fueled by opposition to the war, Black Nationalism, and the sexual revolution. Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and others led a new wave of feminism that sought political, social, and economic equality for women.
As a result of the Watergate scandal, in 1974 Nixon became the first U.S. president to resign, to avoid being impeached on charges including obstruction of justice and abuse of power. The Jimmy Carter administration of the late 1970s was marked by stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis. The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 heralded a rightward shift in American politics, reflected in major changes in taxation and spending priorities. His second term in office brought both the Iran-Contra scandal and significant diplomatic progress with the Soviet Union. The subsequent Soviet collapse ended the Cold War.
The World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001
Under President George H. W. Bush, the United States took a lead role in the UN–sanctioned Gulf War. The longest economic expansion in modern U.S. history—from March 1991 to March 2001—encompassed the Bill Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble. A civil lawsuit and sex scandal led to Clinton's impeachment in 1998, but he remained in office. The 2000 presidential election, one of the closest in American history, was resolved by a U.S. Supreme Court decision—George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush, became president.
On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing nearly three thousand people. In response, the Bush administration launched the global War on Terror, invading Afghanistan and removing the Taliban government and al-Qaeda training camps. Taliban insurgents continue to fight a guerrilla war. In 2002, the Bush administration began to press for regime change in Iraq on controversial grounds. Forces of a so-called Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq in 2003, ousting Saddam Hussein. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused severe destruction along much of the Gulf Coast, devastating New Orleans. In 2008, amid a global economic recession, the first African American president, Barack Obama, was elected. Major health care and financial system reforms were enacted two years later. In 2011, a raid by Navy SEALs in Pakistan killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The Iraq War ended with the pullout of the remaining U.S. troops from the country.
Government, elections, and politics
The west front of the United States Capitol, which houses the United States Congress.
The United States is the world's oldest surviving federation. It is a constitutional republic and representative democracy, "in which majority rule is tempered by minority rights protected by law". The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the U.S. Constitution, which serves as the country's supreme legal document. In the American federalist system, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government, federal, state, and local; the local government's duties are commonly split between county and municipal governments. In almost all cases, executive and legislative officials are elected by a plurality vote of citizens by district. There is no proportional representation at the federal level, and it is very rare at lower levels.
The south façade of the White House, home and workplace of the U.S. president.
The federal government is composed of three branches:
Legislative: The bicameral Congress, made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, makes federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse, and has the power of impeachment, by which it can remove sitting members of the government.
Executive: The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law, and appoints the members of the Cabinet (subject to Senate approval) and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies.
Judicial: The Supreme Court and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the president with Senate approval, interpret laws and overturn those they find unconstitutional.
The west front of the United States Supreme Court Building.
The House of Representatives has 435 voting members, each representing a congressional district for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population every tenth year. As of the 2000 census, seven states have the minimum of one representative, while California, the most populous state, has fifty-three. The Senate has 100 members with each state having two senators, elected at-large to six-year terms; one third of Senate seats are up for election every other year. The president serves a four-year term and may be elected to the office no more than twice. The president is not elected by direct vote, but by an indirect electoral college system in which the determining votes are apportioned to the states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice of the United States, has nine members, who serve for life.
The state governments are structured in roughly similar fashion; Nebraska uniquely has a unicameral legislature. The governor (chief executive) of each state is directly elected. Some state judges and cabinet officers are appointed by the governors of the respective states, while others are elected by popular vote. The original text of the Constitution establishes the structure and responsibilities of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. Article One protects the right to the "great writ" of habeas corpus, and Article Three guarantees the right to a jury trial in all criminal cases. Amendments to the Constitution require the approval of three-fourths of the states. The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times; the first ten amendments, which make up the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment form the central basis of Americans' individual rights. All laws and governmental procedures are subject to judicial review and any law ruled in violation of the Constitution is voided. The principle of judicial review, not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, was declared by the Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison (1803).
Parties and ideology
Barack Obama taking the presidential oath of office from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, January 20, 2009.
The United States has operated under a two-party system for most of its history. For elective offices at most levels, state-administered primary elections choose the major party nominees for subsequent general elections. Since the general election of 1856, the major parties have been the Democratic Party, founded in 1824, and the Republican Party, founded in 1854. Since the Civil War, only one third-party presidential candidate—former president Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive in 1912—has won as much as 20% of the popular vote.
Within American political culture, the Republican Party is considered center-right or conservative and the Democratic Party is considered center-left or liberal. The states of the Northeast and West Coast and some of the Great Lakes states, known as "blue states", are relatively liberal. The "red states" of the South and parts of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains are relatively conservative. The winner of the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama, is the 44th U.S. president. The 2010 midterm elections saw the Republican Party take control of the House and make gains in the Senate, where the Democrats retain the majority. In the 112th United States Congress, the Senate comprises 51 Democrats, two independents who caucus with the Democrats, and 47 Republicans; the House comprises 242 Republicans and 192 Democrats—one seat is vacant. There are 29 Republican and 20 Democratic state governors, as well as one independent.
Foreign relations and military
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, May 2010.
The United States exercises global economic, political, and military influence. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and New York City hosts the United Nations Headquarters. It is a member of the G8, G20, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Almost all countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and many have consulates around the country. Likewise, nearly all nations host American diplomatic missions. However, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Bhutan, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.
The United States has a "special relationship" with the United Kingdom and strong ties with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Israel, and several European countries. It works closely with fellow NATO members on military and security issues and with its neighbors through the Organization of American States and free trade agreements such as the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In 2008, the United States spent a net $25.4 billion on official development assistance, the most in the world. As a share of America's large gross national income (GNI), however, the U.S. contribution of 0.18% ranked last among twenty-two donor states. By contrast, private overseas giving by Americans is relatively generous.
The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier
The president holds the title of commander-in-chief of the nation's armed forces and appoints its leaders, the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The United States Department of Defense administers the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The Coast Guard is run by the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime and the Department of the Navy in time of war. In 2008, the armed forces had 1.4 million personnel on active duty. The Reserves and National Guard brought the total number of troops to 2.3 million. The Department of Defense also employed about 700,000 civilians, not including contractors.
Military service is voluntary, though conscription may occur in wartime through the Selective Service System. American forces can be rapidly deployed by the Air Force's large fleet of transport aircraft, the Navy's eleven active aircraft carriers, and Marine Expeditionary Units at sea with the Navy's Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The military operates 865 bases and facilities abroad, and maintains deployments greater than 100 active duty personnel in 25 foreign countries. The extent of this global military presence has prompted some scholars to describe the United States as maintaining an "empire of bases".
Total U.S. military spending in 2010, almost $700 billion, was 43% of global military spending and greater than the next fourteen largest national military expenditures combined. At 4.8% of GDP, the rate was the second-highest among the top fifteen military spenders, after Saudi Arabia. The proposed base Department of Defense budget for 2012, $553 billion, is a 4.2% increase over 2011; an additional $118 billion is proposed for the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The last American troops serving in Iraq departed in December 2011; 4,484 servicemen were killed during the Iraq War. Approximately 100,000 U.S. troops were serving in Afghanistan as of November 2011; as of February 23, 2012, 1,904 had been killed during the War in Afghanistan.
The United States has a capitalist mixed economy, which is fueled by abundant natural resources, a well-developed infrastructure, and high productivity. According to the International Monetary Fund, the U.S. GDP of $15.1 trillion constitutes 22% of the gross world product at market exchange rates and over 19% of the gross world product at purchasing power parity (PPP). Though larger than any other nation's, its national GDP is about 5% smaller than the GDP of the European Union at PPP in 2008. The country ranks ninth in the world in nominal GDP per capita and sixth in GDP per capita at PPP. The U.S. dollar is the world's primary reserve currency. The United States is the largest importer of goods and third largest exporter, though exports per capita are relatively low. In 2010, the total U.S. trade deficit was $634.9 billion. Canada, China, Mexico, Japan, and Germany are its top trading partners. In 2010, oil was the largest import commodity, while transportation equipment was the country's largest export. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. public debt.
Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, the world's largest bourse by dollar volume.
In 2009, the private sector was estimated to constitute 86.4% of the economy, with federal government activity accounting for 4.3% and state and local government activity (including federal transfers) the remaining 9.3%. While its economy has reached a postindustrial level of development and its service sector constitutes 67.8% of GDP, the United States remains an industrial power. The leading business field by gross business receipts is wholesale and retail trade; by net income it is manufacturing. Chemical products are the leading manufacturing field. The United States is the third largest producer of oil in the world, as well as its largest importer. It is the world's number one producer of electrical and nuclear energy, as well as liquid natural gas, sulfur, phosphates, and salt. While agriculture accounts for just under 1% of GDP, the United States is the world's top producer of corn and soybeans. Coca-Cola and McDonald's are the two most recognized brands in the world.
In August 2010, the American labor force comprised 154.1 million people. With 21.2 million people, government is the leading field of employment. The largest private employment sector is health care and social assistance, with 16.4 million people. About 12% of workers are unionized, compared to 30% in Western Europe. The World Bank ranks the United States first in the ease of hiring and firing workers. In 2009, the United States had the third highest labor productivity per person in the world, behind Luxembourg and Norway. It was fourth in productivity per hour, behind those two countries and the Netherlands. Compared to Europe, U.S. property and corporate income tax rates are generally higher, while labor and, particularly, consumption tax rates are lower.
Income and human development
According to the United States Census Bureau, the pretax median household income in 2010 was $49,445. The median ranged from $64,308 among Asian American households to $32,068 among African American households. Using purchasing power parity exchange rates, the overall median is similar to the most affluent cluster of developed nations. After declining sharply during the middle of the 20th century, poverty rates have plateaued since the early 1970s, with 11–15% of Americans below the poverty line every year, and 58.5% spending at least one year in poverty between the ages of 25 and 75. In 2010, 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty, a figure that rose for the fourth year in a row.
A middle-class suburban development in San Jose, California
The U.S. welfare state is one of the least extensive in the developed world, reducing both relative poverty and absolute poverty by considerably less than the mean for rich nations, though combined private and public social expenditures per capita are relatively high. While the American welfare state effectively reduces poverty among the elderly, it provides relatively little assistance to the young. A 2007 UNICEF study of children's well-being in twenty-one industrialized nations ranked the United States next to last.
Between 1947 and 1979, real median income rose by over 80% for all classes, with the incomes of poor Americans rising faster than those of the rich. However, income gains since then have been slower, less widely shared, and accompanied by increased economic insecurity. Median household income has increased for all classes since 1980, largely owing to more dual-earner households, the closing of the gender gap, and longer work hours, but the growth has been strongly tilted toward the very top. Consequently, the share of income of the top 1%—21.8% of total reported income in 2005—has more than doubled since 1980, leaving the United States with the greatest income inequality among developed nations. The United States has a progressive tax system which equates to higher income earners paying a larger percentage of their income in taxes. The top 1% pays 27.6% of all federal taxes, while the top 10% pays 54.7%. Wealth, like income and taxes, is highly concentrated: The richest 10% of the adult population possesses 69.8% of the country's household wealth, the second-highest share among developed nations. The top 1% possesses 33.4% of net wealth. In 2010 the United Nations Development Programme ranked the United States 12th among 139 countries on its inequality-adjusted human development index (IHDI), eight places lower than in the standard HDI.
Science and technology
The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's laboratory developed the phonograph, the first long-lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera. Nikola Tesla pioneered alternating current, the AC motor, and radio. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford popularized the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.
The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led many European scientists, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and John von Neumann, to immigrate to the United States. During World War II, the Manhattan Project developed nuclear weapons, ushering in the Atomic Age. The Space Race produced rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and computers. IBM, Apple Computer, and Microsoft refined and popularized the personal computer. The United States largely developed the ARPANET and its successor, the Internet. Today, 64% of research and development funding comes from the private sector. The United States leads the world in scientific research papers and impact factor. Americans possess high levels of technological consumer goods, and almost half of U.S. households have broadband Internet access. The country is the primary developer and grower of genetically modified food, representing half of the world's biotech crops.
Personal transportation is dominated by automobiles, which operate on a network of 13 million roads, including one of the world's longest highway systems. The world's second largest automobile market, the United States has the highest rate of per-capita vehicle ownership in the world, with 765 vehicles per 1,000 Americans. About 40% of personal vehicles are vans, SUVs, or light trucks. The average American adult (accounting for all drivers and nondrivers) spends 55 minutes driving every day, traveling 29 miles (47 km).
Mass transit accounts for 9% of total U.S. work trips, ranking last in a survey of 17 countries. While transport of goods by rail is extensive, relatively few people use rail to travel, though ridership on Amtrak, the national intercity passenger rail system, grew by almost 37% between 2000 and 2010. Light rail development has increased in recent years but, like high speed rail, is below European levels. Bicycle usage for work commutes is minimal.
The civil airline industry is entirely privately owned and has been largely deregulated since 1978, while most major airports are publicly owned. The three largest airlines in the world by passengers carried are U.S.-based; Delta Airlines is number one. Of the world's thirty busiest passenger airports, sixteen are in the United States, including the busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
The United States energy market is 29,000 terawatt hours per year. Energy consumption per capita is 7.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, the 10th highest rate in the world. In 2005, 40% of this energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 22% from natural gas. The remainder was supplied by nuclear power and renewable energy sources. The United States is the world's largest consumer of petroleum. For decades, nuclear power has played a limited role relative to many other developed countries, in part due to public perception in the wake of a 1979 accident. In 2007, several applications for new nuclear plants were filed. The United States has 27% of global coal reserves.
Some 80% of U.S. college students attend public universities such as the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson.
American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. Children are required in most states to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally, kindergarten or first grade) until they turn eighteen (generally bringing them through twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at sixteen or seventeen. About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled.
The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education. According to prominent international rankings, 13 or 15 American colleges and universities are ranked among the top 20 in the world. There are also local community colleges with generally more open admission policies, shorter academic programs, and lower tuition. Of Americans twenty-five and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees. The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%. The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.
The Texas Medical Center in Houston, the world's largest medical center.
The United States life expectancy of 78.4 years at birth ranks it 50th among 221 nations. Increasing obesity in the United States and health improvements elsewhere have contributed to lowering the country's rank in life expectancy from 1987, when it was 11th in the world. Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight; the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter-century. Obesity-related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals. The infant mortality rate of 6.06 per thousand places the United States 176th out of 222 countries, higher than all of Western Europe. The U.S. health care system far outspends any other nation's, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP. The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. health care system in 2000 as first in responsiveness, but 37th in overall performance.
Health care coverage in the United States is a combination of public and private efforts, and is not universal as in all other developed countries. In 2004, private insurance paid for 36% of personal health expenditures, private out-of-pocket payments covered 15%, and federal, state, and local governments paid for 44%. In 2005, 46.6 million Americans, 15.9% of the population, were uninsured, 5.4 million more than in 2001. The main cause of this rise is the drop in the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance. The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue. A 2009 study estimated that lack of insurance is associated with nearly 45,000 deaths a year. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance. Federal legislation passed in early 2010 will create a near-universal health insurance system around the country by 2014.
Crime and law enforcement
Law enforcement in the U.S. is maintained primarily by local police departments. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is the largest in the country.
Law enforcement in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local police and sheriff's departments, with state police providing broader services. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service have specialized duties. At the federal level and in almost every state, jurisprudence operates on a common law system. State courts conduct most criminal trials; federal courts handle certain designated crimes as well as certain appeals from the state systems. Federal law prohibits a variety of drugs, although states sometimes pass laws in conflict with federal regulations. The smoking age is generally 18, and the drinking age is generally 21.
Among developed nations, the United States has above-average levels of violent crime and particularly high levels of gun violence and homicide. There were 5.0 murders per 100,000 persons in 2009, 10.4% fewer than in 2000. Gun ownership rights are the subject of contentious political debate. The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate and total prison population in the world. At the start of 2008, more than 2.3 million people were incarcerated, more than one in every 100 adults. The current rate is about seven times the 1980 figure, and over three times the figure in Poland, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) country with the next highest rate. African American males are jailed at about six times the rate of white males and three times the rate of Hispanic males. The country's high rate of incarceration is largely due to sentencing and drug policies.
Though it has been abolished in most Western nations, capital punishment is sanctioned in the United States for certain federal and military crimes, and in thirty-four states. Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty after a four-year moratorium, there have been more than 1,000 executions. In 2010, the country had the fifth highest number of executions in the world, following China, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen. In 2007, New Jersey became the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty since the 1976 Supreme Court decision, followed by New Mexico in 2009 and Illinois in 2011.
Largest ancestry groups by county, 2000Race/Ethnicity (2010)
American Indian and Alaska Native0.9%
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander0.2%
Two or more races2.9%
Hispanic/Latino (of any race)16.3%
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the country's population now to be 313,201,000, including an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants. The U.S. population almost quadrupled during the 20th century, from about 76 million in 1900. The third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, the United States is the only major industrialized nation in which large population increases are projected. Even with a birth rate of 13.82 per 1,000, 30% below the world average, its population growth rate is positive at 1%, significantly higher than those of many developed nations. In fiscal year 2010, over 1 million immigrants (most of whom entered through family reunification) were granted legal residence. Mexico has been the leading source of new residents for over two decades; since 1998, China, India, and the Philippines have been in the top four sending countries every year.
The United States has a very diverse population—thirty-one ancestry groups have more than one million members. White Americans are the largest racial group; German Americans, Irish Americans, and English Americans constitute three of the country's four largest ancestry groups. African Americans are the nation's largest racial minority and third largest ancestry group. Asian Americans are the country's second largest racial minority; the two largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans. In 2010, the U.S. population included an estimated 5.2 million people with some American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry (2.9 million exclusively of such ancestry) and 1.2 million with some native Hawaiian or Pacific island ancestry (0.5 million exclusively). The census counted more than 19 million people of "Some Other Race" who were "unable to identify with any" of its five official race categories in 2010. The population growth of Hispanic and Latino Americans (the terms are officially interchangeable) is a major demographic trend. The 50.5 million Americans of Hispanic descent are identified as sharing a distinct "ethnicity" by the Census Bureau; 64% of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent. Between 2000 and 2010, the country's Hispanic population increased 43% while the non-Hispanic population rose just 4.9%. Much of this growth is from immigration; as of 2007, 12.6% of the U.S. population was foreign-born, with 54% of that figure born in Latin America. Fertility is also a factor; the average Hispanic woman gives birth to 3.0 children in her lifetime, compared to 2.2 for non-Hispanic black women and 1.8 for non-Hispanic white women (below the replacement rate of 2.1). Minorities (as defined by the Census Bureau as all those beside non-Hispanic, non-multiracial whites) constitute 36.3% of the population in 2010, and nearly 50% of children under age 1, and are projected to constitute the majority by 2042. About 82% of Americans live in urban areas (including suburbs); about half of those reside in cities with populations over 50,000. In 2008, 273 incorporated places had populations over 100,000, nine cities had more than 1 million residents, and four global cities had over 2 million (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston). There are fifty-two metropolitan areas with populations greater than 1 million. Of the fifty fastest-growing metro areas, forty-seven are in the West or South. The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008. Leading population centers view-talk-edit Rank Core city Metro area pop.
English (only)225.5 million
Spanish, incl. Creole34.5 million
French, incl. Creole2.0 million
English is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize English. In 2007, about 226 million, or 80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. Spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language. Some Americans advocate making English the country's official language, as it is in at least twenty-eight states. Both Hawaiian and English are official languages in Hawaii by state law.
While neither has an official language, New Mexico has laws providing for the use of both English and Spanish, as Louisiana does for English and French. Other states, such as California, mandate the publication of Spanish versions of certain government documents including court forms. Many jurisdictions with large numbers of non-English speakers produce government materials, especially voting information, in the most commonly spoken languages in those jurisdictions. Several insular territories grant official recognition to their native languages, along with English: Samoan and Chamorro are recognized by American Samoa and Guam, respectively; Carolinian and Chamorro are recognized by the Northern Mariana Islands; Spanish is an official language of Puerto Rico.
A Presbyterian church; most Americans identify as Christian.
The United States is officially a secular nation; the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids the establishment of any religious governance. In a 2002 study, 59% of Americans said that religion played a "very important role in their lives", a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. According to a 2007 survey, 78.4% of adults identified themselves as Christian, down from 86.4% in 1990. Protestant denominations accounted for 51.3%, while Roman Catholicism, at 23.9%, was the largest individual denomination. The study categorizes white evangelicals, 26.3% of the population, as the country's largest religious cohort; another study estimates evangelicals of all races at 30–35%. The total reporting non-Christian religions in 2007 was 4.7%, up from 3.3% in 1990. The leading non-Christian faiths were Judaism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Islam (0.6%), Hinduism (0.4%), and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%). The survey also reported that 16.1% of Americans described themselves as agnostic, atheist, or simply having no religion, up from 8.2% in 1990.
In 2007, 58% of Americans age 18 and over were married, 6% were widowed, 10% were divorced, and 25% had never been married. Women now mostly work outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor's degrees. Same-sex marriage is a contentious issue. Some states permit civil unions or domestic partnerships in lieu of marriage. Since 2003, several states have legalized gay marriage as the result of judicial or legislative action. Meanwhile, the federal government and a majority of states define marriage as between a man and a woman and/or explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage. Public opinion on the issue has shifted from general opposition in the 1990s to a statistical deadlock as of 2011.
The U.S. teenage pregnancy rate, 79.8 per 1,000 women, is the highest among OECD nations. Abortion policy was left to the states until the Supreme Court legalized the practice in 1973. The issue remains highly controversial, with public opinion closely divided for many years. Many states ban public funding of the procedure and restrict late-term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate a waiting period. While the abortion rate is falling, the abortion ratio of 241 per 1,000 live births and abortion rate of 15 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 remain higher than those of most Western nations.
The Statue of Liberty is a globally recognized symbol of both the United States and ideals such as freedom, democracy, and opportunity. The United States is a multicultural nation, home to a wide variety of ethnic groups, traditions, and values. Aside from the now small Native American and Native Hawaiian populations, nearly all Americans or their ancestors immigrated within the past five centuries. Mainstream American culture is a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of European immigrants with influences from many other sources, such as traditions brought by slaves from Africa. More recent immigration from Asia and especially Latin America has added to a cultural mix that has been described as both a homogenizing melting pot, and a heterogeneous salad bowl in which immigrants and their descendants retain distinctive cultural characteristics. American culture is considered the most individualistic in the world. Though the American Dream, or the perception that Americans enjoy high social mobility, plays a key role in attracting immigrants, other developed nations offer greater social mobility. While the mainstream culture holds that the United States is a classless society, scholars identify significant differences between the country's social classes, affecting socialization, language, and values. The American middle and professional class has initiated many contemporary social trends such as modern feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism. Americans' self-images, social viewpoints, and cultural expectations are associated with their occupations to an unusually close degree. While Americans tend greatly to value socioeconomic achievement, being ordinary or average is generally seen as a positive attribute.
The Hollywood Sign
The world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City in 1894, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The next year saw the first commercial screening of a projected film, also in New York, and the United States was in the forefront of sound film's development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, California. Director D. W. Griffith was central to the development of film grammar and Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited as the greatest film of all time. American screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe have become iconic figures, while producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising. The major film studios of Hollywood have produced the most commercially successful movies in history, such as Star Wars (1977) and Titanic (1997), and the products of Hollywood today dominate the global film industry.
Americans are the heaviest television viewers in the world, and the average viewing time continues to rise, reaching five hours a day in 2006. The four major broadcast networks are all commercial entities. Americans listen to radio programming, also largely commercialized, on average just over two-and-a-half hours a day. Aside from web portals and search engines, the most popular websites are Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogger, eBay, and Craigslist.
The rhythmic and lyrical styles of African-American music have deeply influenced American music at large, distinguishing it from European traditions. Elements from folk idioms such as the blues and what is now known as old-time music were adopted and transformed into popular genres with global audiences. Jazz was developed by innovators such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington early in the 20th century. Country music developed in the 1920s, and rhythm and blues in the 1940s. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were among the mid-1950s pioneers of rock and roll. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan emerged from the folk revival to become one of America's most celebrated songwriters and James Brown led the development of funk. More recent American creations include hip hop and house music. American pop stars such as Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna have become global celebrities.
Literature, philosophy, and the arts
Jack Kerouac, one of the best-known figures of the Beat Generation, a group of writers that came to prominence in the 1950s. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the 19th century. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, is now recognized as an essential American poet. A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and character—such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925)—may be dubbed the "Great American Novel".
Eleven U.S. citizens have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, most recently Toni Morrison in 1993. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway are often named among the most influential writers of the 20th century. Popular literary genres such as the Western and hardboiled crime fiction developed in the United States. The Beat Generation writers opened up new literary approaches, as have postmodernist authors such as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo.
The transcendentalists, led by Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, established the first major American philosophical movement. After the Civil War, Charles Sanders Peirce and then William James and John Dewey were leaders in the development of pragmatism. In the 20th century, the work of W. V. Quine and Richard Rorty, built upon by Noam Chomsky, brought analytic philosophy to the fore of U.S. academics. John Rawls and Robert Nozick led a revival of political philosophy. In the visual arts, the Hudson River School was a mid-19th-century movement in the tradition of European naturalism. The realist paintings of Thomas Eakins are now widely celebrated. The 1913 Armory Show in New York City, an exhibition of European modernist art, shocked the public and transformed the U.S. art scene. Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and others experimented with new styles, displaying a highly individualistic sensibility. Major artistic movements such as the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein developed largely in the United States. The tide of modernism and then postmodernism has brought fame to American architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry.
Times Square in New York City, part of the Broadway theater district
One of the first major promoters of American theater was impresario P. T. Barnum, who began operating a lower Manhattan entertainment complex in 1841. The team of Harrigan and Hart produced a series of popular musical comedies in New York starting in the late 1870s. In the 20th century, the modern musical form emerged on Broadway; the songs of musical theater composers such as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Stephen Sondheim have become pop standards. Playwright Eugene O'Neill won the Nobel literature prize in 1936; other acclaimed U.S. dramatists include multiple Pulitzer Prize winners Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and August Wilson. Though little known at the time, Charles Ives's work of the 1910s established him as the first major U.S. composer in the classical tradition, while experimentalists such as Henry Cowell and John Cage created a distinctive American approach to classical composition. Aaron Copland and George Gershwin developed a new synthesis of popular and classical music. Choreographers Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham helped create modern dance, while George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins were leaders in 20th century ballet. Americans have long been important in the modern artistic medium of photography, with major photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Ansel Adams. The newspaper comic strip and the comic book are both U.S. innovations. Superman, the quintessential comic book superhero, has become an American icon.
Mainstream American cuisine is similar to that in other Western countries. Wheat is the primary cereal grain. Traditional American cuisine uses indigenous ingredients, such as turkey, venison, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, squash, and maple syrup, which were consumed by Native Americans and early European settlers. Slow-cooked pork and beef barbecue, crab cakes, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies are distinctively American foods. Soul food, developed by African slaves, is popular around the South and among many African Americans elsewhere. Syncretic cuisines such as Louisiana creole, Cajun, and Tex-Mex are regionally important.
Characteristic dishes such as apple pie, fried chicken, pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs derive from the recipes of various immigrants. French fries, Mexican dishes such as burritos and tacos, and pasta dishes freely adapted from Italian sources are widely consumed. Americans generally prefer coffee to tea. Marketing by U.S. industries is largely responsible for making orange juice and milk ubiquitous breakfast beverages.
The American fast food industry, the world's largest, pioneered the drive-through format in the 1930s. Fast food consumption has sparked health concerns. During the 1980s and 1990s, Americans' caloric intake rose 24%; frequent dining at fast food outlets is associated with what public health officials call the American "obesity epidemic". Highly sweetened soft drinks are widely popular, and sugared beverages account for 9% of American caloric intake.
A college football quarterback looking to pass the ball.
Baseball has been regarded as the national sport since the late 19th century, while American football is now by several measures the most popular spectator sport. Basketball and ice hockey are the country's next two leading professional team sports. College football and basketball attract large audiences. Boxing and horse racing were once the most watched individual sports, but they have been eclipsed by golf and auto racing, particularly NASCAR. Soccer is played widely at the youth and amateur levels. Tennis and many outdoor sports are popular as well.
While most major U.S. sports have evolved out of European practices, volleyball, skateboarding, snowboarding, and cheerleading are American inventions. Basketball was invented in Massachusetts by Canadian-born James Naismith. Lacrosse and surfing arose from Native American and Native Hawaiian activities that predate Western contact. Eight Olympic Games have taken place in the United States. The United States has won 2,301 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, more than any other country, and 253 in the Winter Olympic Games, the second most.
The nation retains United States customary units, comprising mainly former British imperial units such as miles, yards, and degrees Fahrenheit. Distinct units include the U.S. gallon and U.S. pint volume measurements. The United States is one of only three countries that do not rely primarily on the International System of Units. However, metric units are increasingly used in science, medicine, and many industrial fields.
Commonwealth of Australia
FlagCoat of arms
Anthem: "Advance Australia Fair"
National languageEnglish (de facto)
GovernmentFederal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
- MonarchElizabeth II
- Governor-GeneralQuentin Bryce
- Prime MinisterJulia Gillard
- Upper houseSenate
- Lower houseHouse of Representatives
Independencefrom the United Kingdom
- Constitution1 January 1901
- Statute of Westminster 11 December 1931
- Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 9 October 1942 (with effect from 3 September 1939)
- Australia Act3 March 1986
- Total7,617,930 km2 (6th)
- 2012 estimate22,861,246
- 2006 census19,855,288
- Density2.8/km2 (233rd) 7.3/so mi
CurrencyAustralian dollar (AUD)
Drives on theleft
Australia ( /əˈstreɪljə/), officially the Commonwealth of Australia is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent as well as the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area. Neighbouring countries include Indonesia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea to the north; the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east.
For at least 40,000 years before European settlement in the late 18th century, Australia was inhabited by indigenous Australians, who belonged to one or more of roughly 250 language groups. After discovery by Dutch explorers in 1606, Australia's eastern half was claimed by Great Britain in 1770 and settled through penal transportation to the colony of New South Wales from 26 January 1788. The population grew steadily in subsequent decades; the continent was explored and an additional five self-governing Crown Colonies were established.
On 1 January 1901, the six colonies federated, forming the Commonwealth of Australia. Since Federation, Australia has maintained a stable liberal democratic political system which functions as a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. The federation comprises six states and several territories. The population of 22.7 million is heavily concentrated in the Eastern states and is highly urbanised. A highly developed country, Australia is the world's 13th-largest economy and has the world's fifth-highest per capita income. Australia's military expenditure is the world's 13th-largest. With the second-highest human development index globally, Australia ranks highly in many international comparisons of national performance, such as quality of life, health, education, economic freedom, and the protection of civil liberties and political rights. Australia is a member of the G20, OECD, WTO, APEC, UN, Commonwealth of Nations, ANZUS, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
Pronounced [əˈstɹæɪljə, -liə] in Australian English, the name Australia is derived from the Latin australis, meaning "southern". The country has been referred to colloquially as Oz since the early 20th century. Aussie is a common colloquial term for "Australian". In neighbouring New Zealand the term "Aussie" is sometimes applied as a noun to the nation as well as its residents.
Legends of Terra Australis Incognita—an "unknown land of the South"—date back to Roman times and were commonplace in medieval geography, although not based on any documented knowledge of the continent. Following European discovery, names for the Australian landmass were often references to the famed Terra Australis.
The earliest recorded use of the word Australia in English was in 1625 in "A note of Australia del Espíritu Santo, written by Sir Richard Hakluyt", published by Samuel Purchas in Hakluytus Posthumus, a corruption of the original Spanish name "Tierra Austral del Espíritu Santo" (Southern Land of the Holy Spirit) for an island in Vanuatu. The Dutch adjectival form Australische was used in a Dutch book in Batavia (Jakarta) in 1638, to refer to the newly discovered lands to the south. Australia was later used in a 1693 translation of Les Aventures de Jacques Sadeur dans la Découverte et le Voyage de la Terre Australe, a 1676 French novel by Gabriel de Foigny, under the pen-name Jacques Sadeur. Referring to the entire South Pacific region, Alexander Dalrymple used it in An Historical Collection of Voyages and Discoveries in the South Pacific Ocean in 1771. By the end of the 18th century, the name was being used to refer specifically to Australia, with the botanists George Shaw and Sir James Smith writing of "the vast island, or rather continent, of Australia, Australasia or New Holland" in their 1793 Zoology and Botany of New Holland, and James Wilson including it on a 1799 chart.
The name Australia was popularised by the explorer Matthew Flinders, who pushed for it to be formally adopted as early as 1804. When preparing his manuscript and charts for his 1814 A Voyage to Terra Australis, he was persuaded by his patron, Sir Joseph Banks, to use the term Terra Australis as this was the name most familiar to the public. Flinders did so, but allowed himself the footnote:
"Had I permitted myself any innovation on the original term, it would have been to convert it to Australia; as being more agreeable to the ear, and an assimilation to the names of the other great portions of the earth."
This is the only occurrence of the word Australia in that text; but in Appendix III, Robert Brown's General remarks, geographical and systematical, on the botany of Terra Australis, Brown makes use of the adjectival form Australian throughout,—the first known use of that form. Despite popular conception, the book was not instrumental in the adoption of the name: the name came gradually to be accepted over the following ten years.
The first time that the name Australia appears to have been officially used was in a despatch to Lord Bathurst of 4 April 1817 in which Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledges the receipt of Capt. Flinders' charts of Australia. On 12 December 1817 Macquarie recommended to the Colonial Office that it be formally adopted. In 1824, the Admiralty agreed that the continent should be known officially as Australia.
The first map on which the word Australia occurs was published in St Petersburg in 1824. It is in Krusenstern's "Atlas de l'Océan Pacifique".
Exploration by Europeans till 1812
1606 Willem Janszoon
1606 Luis Váez de Torres
1616 Dirk Hartog
1619 Frederick de Houtman
1644 Abel Tasman
1696 Willem de Vlamingh
1699 William Dampier
1770 James Cook
1797–1799 George Bass
1801–1803 Matthew Flinders
Human habitation of the Australian continent is estimated to have begun between 42,000 and 48,000 years ago, possibly with the migration of people by land bridges and short sea-crossings from what is now South-East Asia. These first inhabitants may have been ancestors of modern Indigenous Australians. At the time of European settlement in the late 18th century, most Indigenous Australians were hunter-gatherers, with a complex oral culture and spiritual values based on reverence for the land and a belief in the Dreamtime. The Torres Strait Islanders, ethnically Melanesian, were originally horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers.
Following sporadic visits by fishermen from the Malay Archipelago, the first recorded European sighting of the Australian mainland and the first recorded European landfall on the Australian continent were attributed to the Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon. He sighted the coast of Cape York Peninsula on an unknown date in early 1606, and made landfall on 26 February at the Pennefather River on the western shore of Cape York, near the modern town of Weipa. The Dutch charted the whole of the western and northern coastlines of "New Holland" during the 17th century, but made no attempt at settlement. William Dampier, an English explorer and privateer landed on the north-west coast of Australia in 1688 and again in 1699 on a return trip. In 1770, James Cook sailed along and mapped the east coast of Australia, which he named New South Wales and claimed for Great Britain. Cook's discoveries prepared the way for establishment of a new penal colony. Captain Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet into Port Jackson on 26 January 1788. This date became Australia's national day, Australia Day. (The British Crown Colony of New South Wales was not formally promulgated until 7 February 1788, but 26 January has entered the popular consciousness as the effective date of its foundation.) Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled in 1803 and became a separate colony in 1825. The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia in 1828.
Separate colonies were carved from parts of New South Wales: South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1851, and Queensland in 1859. The Northern Territory was founded in 1911 when it was excised from South Australia. South Australia was founded as a "free province"—it was never a penal colony. Victoria and Western Australia were also founded "free", but later accepted transported convicts. A campaign by the settlers of New South Wales led to the end of convict transportation to that colony; the last convict ship arrived in 1848.
Port Arthur, Tasmania was Australia's largest gaol for transported convicts.
The indigenous population, estimated at 750,000 to 1,000,000 at the time of European settlement, declined steeply for 150 years following settlement, mainly due to infectious disease. The "Stolen Generations" (removal of Aboriginal children from their families), which historians such as Henry Reynolds have argued could be considered genocide, may have contributed to the decline in the Indigenous population. Such interpretations of Aboriginal history are disputed by conservative commentators such as former Prime Minister John Howard as exaggerated or fabricated for political or ideological reasons. This debate is known within Australia as the History wars. The Federal government gained the power to make laws with respect to Aborigines following the 1967 referendum. Traditional ownership of land—aboriginal title—was not recognised until 1992, when the High Court case Mabo v Queensland (No 2) overturned the notion of Australia as terra nullius ("land belonging to no one") before European occupation.
A gold rush began in Australia in the early 1850s, and the Eureka Rebellion against mining licence fees in 1854 was an early expression of civil disobedience. Between 1855 and 1890, the six colonies individually gained responsible government, managing most of their own affairs while remaining part of the British Empire. The Colonial Office in London retained control of some matters, notably foreign affairs, defence and international shipping.
The Last Post is played at an ANZAC Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria. Similar ceremonies are held in most suburbs and towns. On 1 January 1901 federation of the colonies was achieved after a decade of planning, consultation, and voting. The Commonwealth of Australia was established and it became a dominion of the British Empire in 1907. The Federal Capital Territory (later renamed the Australian Capital Territory) was formed in 1911 as the location for the future federal capital of Canberra. Melbourne was the temporary seat of government from 1901 to 1927 while Canberra was constructed. The Northern Territory was transferred from the control of the South Australian government to the federal parliament in 1911. In 1914, Australia joined Britain in fighting World War I, with support from both the outgoing Liberal Party and the incoming Labor Party. Australians took part in many of the major battles fought on the Western Front. Of about 416,000 who served, about 60,000 were killed and another 152,000 were wounded. Many Australians regard the defeat of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) at Gallipoli as the birth of the nation—its first major military action. The Kokoda Track campaign is regarded by many as an analogous nation-defining event during World War II. Australia's national flag comprises the Union Jack, the Commonwealth Star, and the Southern Cross.
Britain's Statute of Westminster 1931 formally ended most of the constitutional links between Australia and the UK. Australia adopted it in 1942, but it was backdated to 1939 to confirm the validity of legislation passed by the Australian Parliament during World War II. The shock of the UK's defeat in Asia in 1942 and the threat of Japanese invasion caused Australia to turn to the United States as a new ally and protector. Since 1951, Australia has been a formal military ally of the US, under the ANZUS treaty. After World War II Australia encouraged immigration from Europe. Since the 1970s and following the abolition of the White Australia policy, immigration from Asia and elsewhere was also promoted. As a result, Australia's demography, culture, and self-image were transformed. The final constitutional ties between Australia and the UK were severed with the passing of the Australia Act 1986, ending any British role in the government of the Australian States, and closing the option of judicial appeals to the Privy Council in London. In a 1999 referendum, 55 per cent of Australian voters and a majority in every Australian state rejected a proposal to become a republic with a president appointed by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of the Australian Parliament. Since the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, there has been an increasing focus in foreign policy on ties with other Pacific Rim nations, while maintaining close ties with Australia's traditional allies and trading partners.
Parliament House, Canberra was opened in 1988, replacing the provisional Parliament House building opened in 1927.
Government House, Canberra, also known as "Yarralumla", is the official residence of the Governor-General.
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia since 2010
Australia is a constitutional monarchy with a federal division of powers. It uses a parliamentary system of government with Queen Elizabeth II at its apex as the Queen of Australia, a role that is distinct from her position as monarch of the other Commonwealth realms. The Queen resides in the United Kingdom, and she is represented by her viceroys in Australia (the Governor-General at the federal level and by the Governors at the state level), who by convention act on the advice of her ministers. Supreme executive authority is vested by the Constitution of Australia in the sovereign, but the power to exercise it is conferred by the Constitution specifically to the Governor-General. The most notable exercise of the Governor-General's reserve powers outside a Prime Minister's request was the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in the constitutional crisis of 1975.
The federal government is separated into three branches:
The legislature: the bicameral Parliament, defined in section 1 of the constitution as comprising the Queen (represented by the Governor-General), the Senate, and the House of Representatives;
The executive: the Federal Executive Council, in practice the Governor-General as advised by the Prime Minister and Ministers of State;
The judiciary: the High Court of Australia and other federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the Governor-General on advice of the Council.
In the Senate (the upper house), there are 76 senators: twelve each from the states and two each from the mainland territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory). The House of Representatives (the lower house) has 150 members elected from single-member electoral divisions, commonly known as "electorates" or "seats", allocated to states on the basis of population, with each original state guaranteed a minimum of five seats. Elections for both chambers are normally held every three years, simultaneously; senators have overlapping six-year terms except for those from the territories, whose terms are not fixed but are tied to the electoral cycle for the lower house; thus only 40 of the 76 places in the Senate are put to each election unless the cycle is interrupted by a double dissolution.
Australia's electoral system uses preferential voting for all lower house elections with the exception of Tasmania and the ACT, which, along with the Senate and most state upper houses, combine it with proportional representation in a system known as the single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory for all enrolled citizens 18 years and over in every jurisdiction, as is enrolment (with the exception of South Australia). The party with majority support in the House of Representatives forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. In cases where no party has majority support, the Governor-General has the power to appoint the Prime Minister, and if necessary dismiss one that has lost the confidence of Parliament.
There are two major political groups that usually form government, federally and in the states: the Australian Labor Party, and the Coalition which is a formal grouping of the Liberal Party and its minor partner, the National Party. Independent members and several minor parties—including the Greens and the Australian Democrats—have achieved representation in Australian parliaments, mostly in upper houses.
Following a partyroom leadership challenge, Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister in June 2010. The most recent federal election was held on 21 August 2010 and resulted in the first hung parliament in over 50 years. Gillard was able to form a minority Labor government with the support of independents.
States and territories
Australia has six states—New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia—and two major mainland territories—the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In most respects these two territories function as states, but the Commonwealth Parliament can override any legislation of their parliaments. By contrast, federal legislation overrides state legislation only in areas that are set out in Section 51 of the Australian Constitution; state parliaments retain all residual legislative powers, including those over schools, state police, the state judiciary, roads, public transport, and local government, since these do not fall under the provisions listed in Section 51.
Each state and major mainland territory has its own parliament—unicameral in the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Queensland and bicameral in the other states. The states are sovereign entities, although subject to certain powers of the Commonwealth as defined by the Constitution. The lower houses are known as the Legislative Assembly (the House of Assembly in South Australia and Tasmania); the upper houses are known as the Legislative Council. The head of the government in each state is the Premier, and in each territory the Chief Minister. The Queen is represented in each state by a Governor; and in the Northern Territory, the Administrator. In the Commonwealth, the Queen's representative is the Governor-General.
The federal parliament directly administers the following territories:
Ashmore and Cartier Islands
Australian Antarctic Territory
Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands
Coral Sea Islands
Heard Island and McDonald Islands
Jervis Bay Territory, a naval base and sea port for the national capital in land that was formerly part of New South Wales
Norfolk Island is also technically an external territory; however, under the Norfolk Island Act 1979 it has been granted more autonomy and is governed locally by its own legislative assembly. The Queen is represented by an Administrator, currently Owen Walsh.
Foreign relations and military
Over recent decades, Australia's foreign relations have been driven by a close association with the United States through the ANZUS pact, and by a desire to develop relationships with Asia and the Pacific, particularly through ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum. In 2005 Australia secured an inaugural seat at the East Asia Summit following its accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and in 2011 attended the Sixth East Asia Summit in Indonesia. Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, in which the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings provide the main forum for cooperation. Australian Army soldiers conducting a foot patrol during a joint training exercise with US forces in Shoalwater Bay (2007).
Australia has pursued the cause of international trade liberalisation. It led the formation of the Cairns Group and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Australia is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Trade Organization, and has pursued several major bilateral free trade agreements, most recently the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement and Closer Economic Relations with New Zealand, with another free trade agreement being negotiated with China—the Australia – China Free Trade Agreement—and Japan, South Korea in 2011, Australia–Chile Free Trade Agreement, ASEAN – Australia – New Zealand Free Trade Area, and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership. Along with New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore, Australia is party to the Five Power Defence Arrangements, a regional defence agreement. A founding member country of the United Nations, Australia is strongly committed to multilateralism and maintains an international aid program under which some 60 countries receive assistance. The 2005–06 budget provides A$2.5 billion for development assistance; as a percentage of GDP, this contribution is less than that recommended in the UN Millennium Development Goals. Australia ranks seventh overall in the Center for Global Development's 2008 Commitment to Development Index. Australia's armed forces—the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—comprise the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in total numbering 80,561 personnel (including 55,068 regulars and 25,493 reservists). The titular role of Commander-in-Chief is vested in the Governor-General, who appoints a Chief of the Defence Force from one of the armed services on the advice of the government. Day-to-day force operations are under the command of the Chief, while broader administration and the formulation of defence policy is undertaken by the Minister and Department of Defence.
In the 2010–11 budget, defence spending was A$25.7 billion, representing the 13th largest defence budget. Australia has been involved in UN and regional peacekeeping, disaster relief and armed conflict; it currently has deployed approximately 3,330 defence force personnel in varying capacities to 12 overseas operations in areas including East Timor, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.
Geography and climate
Climatic zones in Australia based on the Köppen climate classification.
Australia's landmass of 7,617,930 square kilometers (2,941,300 sq. mi) is on the Indo-Australian Plate. Surrounded by the Indian and Pacific oceans, it is separated from Asia by the Arafura and Timor seas, with the Coral Sea lying off the Queensland coast, and the Tasman Sea lying between Australia and New Zealand. The world's smallest continent and sixth largest country by total area, Australia—owing to its size and isolation—is often dubbed the "island continent", and is sometimes considered the world's largest island. Australia has 34,218 kilometers (21,262 mi) of coastline (excluding all offshore islands), and claims an extensive Exclusive Economic Zone of 8,148,250 square kilometers (3,146,060 sq. mi). This exclusive economic zone does not include the Australian Antarctic Territory. Excluding Macquarie Island, Australia lies between latitudes 9° and 44°S, and longitudes 112° and 154°E.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world's largest coral reef, lies a short distance off the north-east coast and extends for over 2,000 kilometers (1,240 mi). Mount Augustus, claimed to be the world's largest monolith, is located in Western Australia. At 2,228 meters (7,310 ft.), Mount Kosciuszko on the Great Dividing Range is the highest mountain on the Australian mainland. Even taller are Mawson Peak (at 2,745 meters or 9,006 feet), on the remote Australian territory of Heard Island, and, in the Australian Antarctic Territory, Mount McClintock and Mount Menzies, at 3,492 meters (11,457 ft.) and 3,355 meters (11,007 ft.) respectively.
Everlastings on Mount Hotham, located in Victoria
Australia's size gives it a wide variety of landscapes, with subtropical rain forests in the north-east, mountain ranges in the south-east, south-west and east areas, and a dry desert in its center. It is the flattest continent, with the oldest and least fertile soils; desert or semi-arid land commonly known as the outback makes up by far the largest portion of land. The driest inhabited continent, only its south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate. The population density, 2.8 inhabitants per square kilometer, is among the lowest in the world, although a large proportion of the population lives along the temperate south-eastern coastline.
Eastern Australia is marked by the Great Dividing Range that runs parallel to the coast of Queensland, New South Wales, and much of Victoria—although the name is not strictly accurate, as in parts the range consists of low hills and the highlands are typically no more than 1,600 meters (5,249 ft.) in height. The coastal uplands and a belt of Brigalow grasslands lay between the coast and the mountains, while inland of the dividing range are large areas of grassland. These include the western plains of New South Wales, and the Einasleigh Uplands, Barkly Tableland, and Mulga Lands of inland Queensland. The northern point of the east coast is the tropical rainforested Cape York Peninsula.
Topographic map of Australia
The landscapes of the northern part of the country—the Top End and the Gulf Country behind the Gulf of Carpentaria, with their tropical climate—consist of woodland, grassland, and desert. At the north-west corner of the continent are the sandstone cliffs and gorges of The Kimberley, and below that the Pilbara. South and inland of these lay more areas of grassland: the Ord Victoria Plain and the Western Australian Mulga shrublands. At the heart of the country are the uplands of central Australia; prominent features of the center and south include the inland Simpson, Tirari and Sturt Stony, Gibson, Great Sandy, Tanami, and Great Victoria deserts, with the famous Nullarbor Plain on the southern coast. The climate of Australia is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the Indian Ocean Dipole and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia. These factors induce rainfall to vary markedly from year to year. Much of the northern part of the country has a tropical predominantly summer rainfall (monsoon) climate. The southwest corner of the country has a Mediterranean climate. Much of the southeast (including Tasmania) is temperate.
Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it includes a diverse range of habitats from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests, and is recognised as a megadiverse country. Because of the continent's great age, extremely variable weather patterns, and long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85 per cent of flowering plants, 84 per cent of mammals, more than 45 per cent of birds, and 89 per cent of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. Australia has the greatest number of reptiles of any country, with 755 species.
The koala and the eucalyptus form an iconic Australian pair
Australian forests are mostly made up of evergreen species, particularly eucalyptus trees in the less arid regions, wattles replace them in drier regions and deserts as the most dominant species. Among well-known Australian fauna are the monotremes (the platypus and echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, koala, and wombat, and birds such as the emu and the kookaburra. Australia is home to many dangerous animals including some of the most venomous snakes in the world. The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE. Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after first human settlement, including the Australian megafauna; others have disappeared since European settlement, among them the thylacine.
Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is the legal framework for the protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created under the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity to protect and preserve unique ecosystems; 65 wetlands are listed under the Ramsar Convention, and 16 natural World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia was ranked 51st of 163 countries in the world on the 2010 Environmental Performance Index.
Climate change has become an increasing concern in Australia in recent years, and protection of the environment is a major political issue. In 2007, the Rudd Government signed the instrument of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, Australia's carbon dioxide emissions per capita are among the highest in the world, lower than those of only a few other industrialised nations. Rainfall in Australia has slightly increased over the past century, both nationwide and for two quadrants of the nation, According to the Bureau of Meteorology's 2011 Australian Climate Statement, Australia had lower than average temperatures in 2011 as a consequence of a La Nina weather pattern, however, "the country's 10-year average continues to demonstrate the rising trend in temperatures, with 2002-2011 likely to rank in the top two warmest 10-year periods on record for Australia, at 0.52 °C above the long-term average". Water restrictions are frequently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages due to urban population increases and localised drought. Throughout much of the continent, major flooding regularly follows extended periods of drought, flushing out inland river systems, overflowing dams and inundating large inland flood plains, as occurred throughout Eastern Australia in 2010, 2011 and 2012 after the 2000s Australian drought.
The Super Pit gold mine in Kalgoorlie, Australia's largest open cut mine.
Australia has a market economy with high GDP per capita and a low rate of poverty. The Australian dollar is the currency for the nation, including Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru, and Tuvalu. After the 2006 merger of the Australian Stock Exchange and the Sydney Futures Exchange, the Australian Securities Exchange is now the ninth largest in the world.
Ranked third in the Index of Economic Freedom (2010), Australia is the world's thirteenth largest economy and has the fifth highest per capita GDP at $66,984; significantly higher than that of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. The country was ranked second in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Index and first in Legatum's 2008 Prosperity Index. All of Australia's major cities fare well in global comparative livability surveys; Melbourne reached first place on The Economist's 2011 World's Most Livable Cities list, followed by Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide in sixth, eighth, and ninth place respectively. Total government debt in Australia is about $190 billion. Australia has among the highest house prices and some of the highest household debt levels in the world.
Destination and value of Australian exports in 2006
An emphasis on exporting commodities rather than manufactured goods has underpinned a significant increase in Australia's terms of trade since the start of the 21st century, due to rising commodity prices. Australia has a balance of payments that is more than 7 per cent of GDP negative, and has had persistently large current account deficits for more than 50 years. Australia has grown at an average annual rate of 3.6 per cent for over 15 years, in comparison to the OECD annual average of 2.5 per cent. There are differing opinions based on evidence as to whether or not Australia had been one of the few OECD nations to avoid experiencing a recession during the late 2000s global financial downturn. Six of Australia's major trading partners had been in recession which in turn affected Australia, and economic growth was hampered significantly over recent years. The Hawke Government floated the Australian dollar in 1983 and partially deregulated the financial system. The Howard Government followed with a partial deregulation of the labour market and the further privatisation of state-owned businesses, most notably in the telecommunications industry. The indirect tax system was substantially changed in July 2000 with the introduction of a 10 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). In Australia's tax system, personal and company income tax are the main sources of government revenue. In July 2011, there were 11,450,500 people employed, with an unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent. Youth unemployment (15–24) rose from 8.7 per cent to 9.7 per cent over 2008–2009. Over the past decade, inflation has typically been 2–3 per cent and the base interest rate 5–6 per cent. The service sector of the economy, including tourism, education, and financial services, accounts for about 70 per cent of GDP. Rich in natural resources, Australia is a major exporter of agricultural products, particularly wheat and wool, minerals such as iron-ore and gold, and energy in the forms of liquified natural gas and coal. Although agriculture and natural resources account for only 3 per cent and 5 per cent of GDP respectively, they contribute substantially to export performance. Australia's largest export markets are Japan, China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand. Australia is the world's fourth largest exporter of wine, in an industry contributing $5.5 billion per annum to the nation's economy.
Nearly three quarters of Australians live in metropolitan cities and coastal areas. The beach is an integral part of the Australian identity. For almost two centuries the majority of settlers, and later immigrants, came from the British Isles. As a result the people of Australia are mainly a mixture of British and Irish ethnic origin. In the 2006 Australian census, the most commonly nominated ancestry was Australian (37.13 per cent), followed by English (32 per cent), Irish (9 per cent), Scottish (8 per cent), Italian (4 per cent), German (4 per cent), Chinese (3 per cent), and Greek (2 per cent). Australia's population has quadrupled since the end of World War I, much of the increase from immigration. Following World War II and through to 2000, almost 5.9 million of the total population settled in the country as new immigrants, meaning that nearly two out of every seven Australians were born overseas. Most immigrants are skilled, but the immigration quota includes categories for family members and refugees. By 2050, Australia's population is currently projected to reach around 42 million. In 2001, 23.1 per cent of Australians were born overseas; the five largest immigrant groups were those from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy, Vietnam, and China. Following the abolition of the White Australia policy in 1973, numerous government initiatives have been established to encourage and promote racial harmony based on a policy of multiculturalism. In 2005–06, more than 131,000 people emigrated to Australia, mainly from Asia and Oceania. The migration target for 2010–11 is 168,700, compared to 67,900 in 1998–99.
The Barossa Valley is a wine-producing region in South Australia. Fewer than 15 per cent of Australians live in rural areas. The Indigenous population—mainland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders—was counted at 410,003 (2.2 per cent of the total population) in 2001, a significant increase from 115,953 in the 1976 census. A large number of Indigenous people are not identified in the Census due to undercount and cases where their Indigenous status is not recorded on the form; after adjusting for these factors, the ABS estimated the true figure for 2001 to be around 460,140 (2.4 per cent of the total population). Indigenous Australians experience higher than average rates of imprisonment and unemployment, lower levels of education, and life expectancies for males and females that are 11–17 years lower than those of non-indigenous Australians. Some remote Indigenous communities have been described as having "failed state"-like conditions. In common with many other developed countries, Australia is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2004, the average age of the civilian population was 38.8 years. A large number of Australians (759,849 for the period 2002–03) live outside their home country.
Although Australia has no official language, English is so entrenched that it has become the de facto national language. Australian English is a major variety of the language with a distinctive accent and lexicon. General Australian serves as the standard dialect. Spelling is similar to that of British English with a number of exceptions. According to the 2006 census, English is the only language spoken in the home for close to 79 per cent of the population. The next most common languages spoken at home are Italian (1.6 per cent), Greek (1.3 per cent) and Cantonese (1.2 per cent); a considerable proportion of first- and second-generation migrants are bilingual. A 2010–2011 study by the Australia Early Development Index found that the most common language spoken by children after English was Arabic, followed by Vietnamese, Greek, Chinese, and Hindi. Between 200 and 300 Indigenous Australian languages are thought to have existed at the time of first European contact, of which only about 70 have survived. Many of these are exclusively spoken by older people; only 18 Indigenous languages are still spoken by all age groups. At the time of the 2006 Census, 52,000 Indigenous Australians, representing 12 per cent of the Indigenous population, reported that they spoke an Indigenous language at home. Australia has a sign language known as Auslan, which is the main language of about 5,500 deaf people.
WR Thomas, A South Australian Corroboree, 1864, Art Gallery of South Australia. Aboriginal Australians developed the animist religion of the Dreamtime.
Australia has no state religion, and section 116 of the Australian Constitution prohibits the federal government from making any law to establish any religion, impose any religious observance, or prohibit the free exercise of any religion. In the 2006 census, 64 per cent of Australians were counted as Christian, including 26 per cent as Roman Catholic and 19 per cent as Anglican. About 19 per cent of the population stated "no religion" (which includes humanism, atheism, agnosticism and rationalism), which was the fastest-growing group from 2001 to 2006, and a further 12 per cent did not answer (the question is optional) or did not give a response adequate for interpretation. The largest non-Christian religion in Australia is Buddhism (2.1 per cent), followed by Islam (1.7 per cent), Hinduism (0.8 per cent) and Judaism (0.5 per cent). Overall, fewer than 6 per cent of Australians identify with non-Christian religions.
Prior to European settlement in Australia, the animist beliefs of Australia's indigenous people had been practised for millennia. In the case of mainland Aboriginal Australians, their spirituality is known as The Dreamtime and it places a heavy emphasis on belonging to the land. The collection of stories that it contains shaped Aboriginal law and customs. Aboriginal art, story and dance continue to draw on these spiritual traditions. In the case of the Torres Strait Islanders who inhabit the islands between Australia and New Guinea, spirituality and customs reflected their Melanesian origins and dependence on the sea. The 1996 Australian census counted more than 7000 respondents as followers of a traditional Aboriginal religion.
St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, built to a design by William Wardell. About a quarter of Australians is Roman Catholic. Since the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in 1788, Christianity has grown to be the major religion. Consequently, the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter are public holidays, the skylines of Australian cities and towns are marked by church and cathedral spires, and the Christian churches have played an integral role in the development of education, health and welfare services in Australia. The Catholic education system operates as the largest non-government educator, accounting for about 21% of all secondary enrolments at the close of the 2000s (decade), with Catholic Health Australia similarly being the largest non-government provider. Christian welfare organisations also play a prominent role within national life, with organisations like the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Anglicare enjoying widespread support. Such contributions are recognised on Australia's currency, with the presence of Christian pastors like Aboriginal writer David Unaipon ($50); founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, John Flynn ($20); and Catherine Helen Spence ($5) who was Australia's first female candidate for political office. Other significant Australian religious figures have included St. Mary McKillop, who became the first Australian to be recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 2010 and Church of Christ pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls, who, like Martin Luther King in the United States, led a movement against racial inequality in Australia and was also the first indigenous Australian to be appointed as a State Governor.
For much of Australian history the Church of England (now known as the Anglican Church of Australia) was the largest religious affiliation, however multicultural immigration has contributed to a decline in its relative position, with the Roman Catholic Church benefiting from the opening of post-war Australia to multicultural immigration and becoming the largest group. Similarly, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism have all been expanding in the post war decades. Weekly attendance at church services in 2001 was about 1.5 million (about 7.8 per cent of the population). An international survey, made by the private, not-for profit German think-tank, the Bertelsmann Foundation, found that "Australia is one of the least religious nations in the western world, coming in 17th out of 21 [countries] surveyed" and that "Nearly three out of four Australians say they are either not at all religious or that religion does not play a central role in their lives." A survey of 1,718 Australians by the Christian Research Association at the end of 2009 suggested that the number of people attending religious services per month in Australia has dropped from 23 per cent in 1993 to 16 per cent in 2009, and while 60 per cent of 15 to 29-year-old respondents in 1993 identified with Christian denominations, 33 per cent did in 2009.
School attendance is compulsory throughout Australia. Education is the responsibility of the individual states and territories so the rules vary between states, but in general children are required to attend school from the age of about 5 up until about 16. In at least some states (e.g., WA) children aged 16–17 are required to either attend school or participate in vocational training, such as an apprenticeship. Australia has an adult literacy rate that is assumed to be 99 per cent. In the Programme for International Student Assessment, Australia regularly scores among the top five of thirty major developed countries (member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Catholic education accounts for the largest non-government sector. Australia has 37 government-funded universities and two private universities, as well as a number of other specialist institutions that provide approved courses at the higher education level. The University of Sydney is Australia's oldest university, having been founded in 1850, followed by the University of Melbourne three years later. Other notable universities include those of the Group of Eight leading tertiary institutions, including the University of Adelaide (which boasts an association with five Nobel Laureates), the Australian National University located in the national capital of Canberra, Monash University and the University of New South Wales.
The OECD places Australia among the most expensive nations to attend university. There is a state-based system of vocational training, known as TAFE, and many trades conduct apprenticeships for training new tradespeople. Approximately 58 per cent of Australians aged from 25 to 64 have vocational or tertiary qualifications, and the tertiary graduation rate of 49 per cent is the highest among OECD countries. The ratio of international to local students in tertiary education in Australia is the highest in the OECD countries.
Life expectancy in Australia in 2006 was 78.7 years for males and 83.5 years for females. Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, while cigarette smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease. Australia has one of the highest proportions of overweight citizens among developed nations. Total expenditure on health (including private sector spending) is around 9.8 per cent of GDP. Australia introduced universal health care in 1975. Known as Medicare it is now nominally funded by an income tax surcharge known as the Medicare levy, currently set at 1.5 per cent. The states manage hospitals and attached outpatient services, while the Commonwealth funds the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (reducing the costs of medicines) and general practice.
The Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne was the first building in Australia to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
Since 1788, the basis of Australian culture has been strongly influenced by Anglo-Celtic Western culture. Distinctive cultural features have also arisen from Australia's natural environment and Indigenous cultures. Since the mid-20th century, American popular culture has strongly influenced Australia, particularly through television and cinema. Other cultural influences come from neighbouring Asian countries, and through large-scale immigration from non-English-speaking nations.
Sunlight Sweet by Australian landscape artist Arthur Streeton.
Australian visual arts are thought to have begun with the cave and bark paintings of its Indigenous peoples. The traditions of Indigenous Australians are largely transmitted orally, through ceremony and the telling of Dreamtime stories. From the time of European settlement, a theme in Australian art has been the natural landscape, seen for example in the works of Albert Namatjira, Arthur Streeton and others associated with the Heidelberg School, and Arthur Boyd.
The country's landscape remains a source of inspiration for Australian modernist artists; it has been depicted in acclaimed works by the likes of Sidney Nolan, Fred Williams, Sydney Long, and Clifton Pugh. Australian artists influenced by modern American and European art include cubist Grace Crowley, surrealist James Gleeson, and pop artist Martin Sharp. Contemporary Indigenous Australian art is the only art movement of international significance to emerge from Australia and "the last great art movement of the 20th century"; its exponents have included Emily Kngwarreye. Art critic Robert Hughes has written several influential books about Australian history and art, and was described as the "world's most famous art critic" by The New York Times. The National Gallery of Australia and state galleries maintain Australian and overseas collections. Australia has one of the world's highest attendances of art galleries and museums per head of population—far more than Britain or America.
Many of Australia's performing arts companies receive funding through the federal government's Australia Council. There is a symphony orchestra in each state, and a national opera company, Opera Australia, well-known for its famous soprano Joan Sutherland. At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, Nellie Melba was one of the world's leading opera singers. Ballet and dance are represented by The Australian Ballet and various state companies. Each state has a publicly funded theatre company.
Performance of Aboriginal song and dance in the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney
Australian literature has also been influenced by the landscape; the works of writers such as Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, and Dorothea Mackellar captured the experience of the Australian bush. The character of the nation's colonial past, as represented in early literature, is popular with modern Australians. In 1973, Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the first Australian to have achieved this. Australian winners of the Man Booker Prize have included Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally; David Williamson, David Malouf, and J. M. Coetzee, who recently became an Australian citizen, are also renowned writers, and Les Murray is regarded as "one of the leading poets of his generation".
The Australian cinema industry began with the 1906 release of The Story of the Kelly Gang, which is regarded as being the world's first feature-length film; but both Australian feature film production and the distribution of British-made features declined dramatically after World War I as American studios and distributors monopolised the industry, and by the 1930s around 95 per cent of the feature films screened in Australia were produced in Hollywood. By the late 1950s feature film production in Australia had effectively ceased and there were no all-Australian feature films made in the decade between 1959 and 1969. Thanks to initiatives by the Gorton and Whitlam federal governments, the New Wave of Australian cinema of the 1970s brought provocative and successful films, some exploring the nation's colonial past, such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Breaker Morant, while the so-called "Ocker" genre produced several highly successful urban-based comedy features including The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and Alvin Purple. Later hits included Mad Max and Gallipoli. More recent successes included Shine and Rabbit-Proof Fence. Notable Australian actors include Judith Anderson, Errol Flynn, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, and Cate Blanchett—current joint director of the Sydney Theatre Company.
Australia has two public broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the multicultural Special Broadcasting Service), three commercial television networks, several pay-TV services, and numerous public, non-profit television and radio stations. Each major city has at least one daily newspaper, and there are two national daily newspapers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review. In 2010, Reporters Without Borders placed Australia 18th on a list of 178 countries ranked by press freedom, behind New Zealand (8th) but ahead of the United Kingdom (19th) and United States (20th). This relatively low ranking is primarily because of the limited diversity of commercial media ownership in Australia; most print media are under the control of News Corporation and Fairfax Media.
The food of Indigenous Australians was largely influenced by the area in which they lived. Most tribal groups subsisted on a simple hunter-gatherer diet, hunting native game and fish and collecting native plants and fruit. The general term for native Australian flora and fauna used as a source of food is bush tucker. The first settlers introduced British food to the continent which much of what is now considered typical Australian food is based on the Sunday roast has become an enduring tradition for many Australians. Since the beginning of the 20th century, food in Australia has increasingly been influenced by immigrants to the nation, particularly from Southern European and Asian cultures. Australian wine is produced in 60 distinct production areas totaling approximately 160,000 hectares, mainly in the southern, cooler parts of the country. The wine regions in each of these states produce different wine varieties and styles that take advantage of local climates and soil types. The predominant varieties are Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sémillon, Pinot noir, Riesling, and Sauvignon blanc. In 1995, an Australian red wine, Penfolds Grange, won the Wine Spectator award for Wine of the Year, the first time a wine from outside France or California achieved this distinction.
Cricket has been an important part of Australia's sporting culture since the 19th century.
Around 24 per cent Australians over the age of 15 regularly participate in organised sporting activities in Australia. Australia has strong international teams in cricket, field hockey, netball, rugby league, and rugby union, having been Olympic or world champions at least twice in each sport in the last 25 years for both men and women where applicable. Australia is also powerful in track cycling, rowing, and swimming, having consistently been in the top-five medal-winners at Olympic or World Championship level since 2000. Swimming is the strongest of these sports; Australia is the second-most prolific medal winner in the sport in Olympic history. Some of Australia's most internationally well-known and successful sportspeople are swimmers Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Shane Gould, and Ian Thorpe; sprinters Shirley Strickland, Betty Cuthbert, and Cathy Freeman; tennis players Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Ken Rosewall, Evonne Goolagong, and Margaret Court; cricketers Donald Bradman and Shane Warne; three-time Formula One world champion Jack Brabham; five-time motorcycle grand prix world champion Mick Doohan; golfers Greg Norman and Karrie Webb; cyclist Hubert Opperman; and prodigious billiards player Walter Lindrum. Nationally, other popular sports include Australian rules football, horse racing, squash, surfing, soccer, and motor racing. The annual Melbourne Cup horse race and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race attract intense interest.
Australia has participated in every summer Olympics of the modern era, and every Commonwealth Games. Australia hosted the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, and has ranked among the top six medal-takers since 2000. Australia has also hosted the 1938, 1962, 1982, 2006 Commonwealth Games and will host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Other major international events held in Australia include the Australian Open tennis grand slam tournament, international cricket matches, and the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. Sydney hosted the 2003 Rugby World Cup and the annual Australia–New Zealand Bledisloe Cup is keenly watched. The highest-rating television programs include sports telecasts such as the summer Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Rugby League State of Origin, and the grand finals of the National Rugby League and Australian Football League. Skiing in Australia began in the 1860s and snow sports take place in the Australian Alps and parts of Tasmania.
FlagCoat of arms
Motto: A Mari Usque Ad Mare (Latin) "From Sea to Sea"
Anthem: "O Canada"
Royal anthem: "God Save the Queen"
Official language(s)English and French
Recognised regional languages Chipewyan, Cree, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, Slavey (North and South) and Tłįchǫ
GovernmentFederal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
- MonarchElizabeth II
- Governor GeneralDavid Johnston
- Prime MinisterStephen Harper
- Chief JusticeBeverley McLachlin
- Upper houseSenate
- Lower houseHouse of Commons
- Constitution Act, 1867July 1, 1867
- Statute of WestminsterDecember 11, 1931
- Canada ActApril 17, 1982
- Total9,984,670 km2 (2nd)
- Water (%)8.92 (891,163 km2/344,080 mi2)
- 2012 estimate34,783,000
- 2011 census33,476,688
CurrencyCanadian dollar ($) (CAD)
Drives on theRight
Canada ( /ˈkænədə/) is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean. Spanning over 9.9 million square kilometres, Canada is the world's second-largest country by total area, and its common border with the United States is the longest land border in the world.
The land that is now Canada has been inhabited for millennia by various groups of Aboriginal peoples. Beginning in the late 15th century, British and French expeditions explored, and later settled, along the region's Atlantic coast. France ceded nearly all of its colonies in North America in 1763 after the Seven Years' War. In 1867, with the union of three British North American colonies through Confederation, Canada was formed as a federal dominion of four provinces. This began an accretion of provinces and territories and a process of increasing autonomy from the United Kingdom. This widening autonomy was highlighted by the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and reaffirmed by the Statute of Westminster of 1931, which declared self-governing dominions within the British Empire to be equal. The Canada Act of 1982 finally severed the vestiges of legal dependence on the British Parliament.
Canada is a federal state that is governed as a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. It is a bilingual nation with both English and French as official languages at the federal level. One of the world's most highly-developed countries, Canada has a diversified economy that is reliant upon its abundant natural resources and upon trade – particularly with the United States, with which Canada has had a long and complex relationship. It is a member of the G7, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, WTO, Commonwealth of Nations, Francophonie, OAS, APEC, and UN. With the sixth-highest Human Development Index globally, Canada has one of the highest standards of living and per capita income in the world.
The name Canada comes from the St. Lawrence Iroquoian word kanata, meaning "village" or "settlement". In 1535, indigenous inhabitants of the present-day Quebec City region used the word to direct French explorer Jacques Cartier to the village of Stadacona. Cartier later used the word Canada to refer not only to that particular village, but also the entire area subject to Donnacona (the chief at Stadacona); by 1545, European books and maps had begun referring to this region as Canada. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, "Canada" referred to the part of New France that lay along the St. Lawrence River and the northern shores of the Great Lakes. The area was later split into two British colonies, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. They were re-unified as the Province of Canada in 1841. Upon Confederation in 1867, Canada was adopted as the legal name for the new country, and the word Dominion was conferred as the country's title. However, as Canada asserted its political autonomy from the United Kingdom, the federal government increasingly used simply Canada on state documents and treaties, a change that was reflected in the renaming of the national holiday from Dominion Day to Canada Day in 1982.
Archaeological studies and analyses of DNA haplogroups have indicated a human presence in the northern Yukon region from 26,500 years ago and in southern Ontario from 9,500 years ago (7500 BC). The Paleo-Indian archaeological sites at Old Crow Flats and Bluefish Caves are two of the oldest sites of human habitation in Canada. The characteristics of Canadian Aboriginal societies included permanent settlements, agriculture, complex societal hierarchies, and trading networks. Some of these cultures had collapsed by the time European explorers arrived in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and have only been discovered through archaeological investigations. The aboriginal population is estimated to have been between 200,000 and two million in the late 15th century, with a figure of 500,000 accepted by Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Health. Repeated outbreaks of European infectious diseases such as influenza, measles, and smallpox, combined with other effects of European contact, resulted in a forty- to eighty-percent population decrease among aboriginal peoples in the centuries after the European arrival. Aboriginal peoples in Canada include the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The Métis are a mixed-blood people who originated in the mid-17th century when First Nations people and Inuit married European settlers. The Inuit had more limited interaction with European settlers during the colonization period.
Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe (1771) dramatizes James Wolfe's death during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham at Quebec in 1759.
The first known attempt at European colonization began when Norsemen settled briefly at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland around 1000 AD. No further European exploration occurred until 1497, when Italian seafarer John Cabot explored Canada's Atlantic coast for England. Basque and Portuguese mariners established seasonal whaling and fishing outposts along the Atlantic coast in the early 16th century. In 1534, Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence River for France, where on July 24; he planted a 10 meter cross bearing the words "Long Live the King of France" and took possession of the territory in the name of King Francis I of France. In 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed St. John's, Newfoundland, as the first North American English colony by the royal prerogative of Queen Elizabeth I. French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1603, and established the first permanent European settlements at Port Royal in 1605 and Quebec City in 1608. Among the French colonists of New France, Canadiens extensively settled the St. Lawrence River valley and Acadians settled the present-day Maritimes, while fur traders and Catholic missionaries explored the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi watershed to Louisiana. The Beaver Wars broke out in the mid-17th century over control of the North American fur trade.
The English established additional colonies in Cupids and Ferryland, Newfoundland, beginning in 1610. The Thirteen Colonies were founded to the south soon after. A series of four French and Indian Wars erupted between 1689 and 1763. Mainland Nova Scotia came under British rule with the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht; the Treaty of Paris (1763) ceded Canada and most of New France to Britain after the Seven Years' War. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 created the Province of Quebec out of New France, and annexed Cape Breton Island to Nova Scotia. St. John's Island (now Prince Edward Island) became a separate colony in 1769. To avert conflict in Quebec, the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774, expanding Quebec's territory to the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. It re-established the French language, Catholic faith, and French civil law there. This angered many residents of the Thirteen Colonies, fuelling anti-British sentiment in the years prior to the 1776 outbreak of the American Revolution.
The Treaty of Paris (1783) recognized American independence and ceded territories south of the Great Lakes to the United States. New Brunswick was split from Nova Scotia as part of a reorganization of Loyalist settlements in the Maritimes. To accommodate English-speaking Loyalists in Quebec, the Constitutional Act of 1791 divided the province into French-speaking Lower Canada (later Quebec) and English-speaking Upper Canada (later Ontario), granting each its own elected legislative assembly.
Robert Harris's Fathers of Confederation, an amalgamation of the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences. The Canadas were the main front in the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain. Following the war, large-scale immigration to Canada from Britain and Ireland began in 1815. Between 1825 and 1846, 626,628 European immigrants reportedly landed at Canadian ports. Between one-quarter and one-third of all Europeans who immigrated to Canada before 1891 died of infectious diseases. The desire for responsible government in the Canadas resulted in the abortive Rebellions of 1837. The Durham Report subsequently recommended responsible government and the assimilation of French Canadians into English culture. The Act of Union 1840 merged The Canadas into a united Province of Canada. Responsible government was established for all British North American provinces by 1849. The signing of the Oregon Treaty by Britain and the United States in 1846 ended the Oregon boundary dispute, extending the border westward along the 49th parallel. This paved the way for British colonies on Vancouver Island (1849) and in British Columbia (1858).
Confederation and expansion
An animated map showing the growth and change of Canada's provinces and territories since Confederation.
Following several constitutional conferences, the 1867 Constitution Act officially proclaimed Canadian Confederation on July 1, 1867, initially with four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Canada assumed control of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to form the Northwest Territories, where the Métis' grievances ignited the Red River Rebellion and the creation of the province of Manitoba in July 1870. British Columbia and Vancouver Island (which had been united in 1866) joined the Confederation in 1871, while Prince Edward Island joined in 1873. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald and his Conservative government established a National Policy of tariffs to protect the nascent Canadian manufacturing industries. To open the West, the government sponsored the construction of three transcontinental railways (including the Canadian Pacific Railway), opened the prairies to settlement with the Dominion Lands Act, and established the North-West Mounted Police to assert its authority over this territory. In 1898, during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Northwest Territories, the Canadian government created the Yukon Territory. Under the Liberal Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, continental European immigrants settled the prairies, and Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905.
Early 20th century
Canadian soldiers and tank at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917.
Because Britain still maintained control of Canada's foreign affairs under the Confederation Act, its declaration of war in 1914 automatically brought Canada into World War I. Volunteers sent to the Western Front later became part of the Canadian Corps. The Corps played a substantial role in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and other major engagements of the war. Out of approximately 625,000 Canadians who served in World War I, around 60,000 were killed and another 173,000 were wounded. The Conscription Crisis of 1917 erupted when conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden brought in compulsory military service over the objections of French-speaking Quebecers. In 1919, Canada joined the League of Nations independently of Britain, and the 1931 Statute of Westminster affirmed Canada's independence. The Great Depression of the early 1930s brought great economic hardship to Canada. In response to the downturn, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Saskatchewan introduced many elements of a welfare state (as pioneered by Tommy Douglas) in the 1940s and 1950s. Canada declared war on Germany independently during World War II under Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, three days after Britain. The first Canadian Army units arrived in Britain in December 1939. Canadian troops played important roles in many key battles of the war, including the failed 1942 Dieppe Raid, the Allied invasion of Italy, the Normandy landings, the Battle of Normandy, and the Battle of the Scheldt in 1944. Canada provided asylum for the monarchy of the Netherlands while that country was occupied, and is credited by the country for major contributions to its liberation from Nazi Germany. The Canadian economy boomed during the war as its industries manufactured military materiel for Canada, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union. Despite another Conscription Crisis in Quebec, Canada finished the war with a large army and strong economy.
At Rideau Hall, Governor General the Viscount Alexander of Tunis (centre) receives the bill finalizing the union of Newfoundland and Canada on March 31, 1949.
The Dominion of Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) was unified with Canada in 1949. Canada's post-war economic growth, combined with the policies of successive Liberal governments, led to the emergence of a new Canadian identity, marked by the adoption of the current Maple Leaf Flag in 1965, the implementation of official bilingualism (English and French) in 1969, and the institution of official multiculturalism in 1971. Socially democratic programs were also instituted, such as Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada Student Loans, though provincial governments, particularly Quebec and Alberta, opposed many of these as incursions into their jurisdictions. Finally, another series of constitutional conferences resulted in the 1982 patriation of Canada's constitution from the United Kingdom, concurrent with the creation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In 1999, Nunavut became Canada's third territory after a series of negotiations with the federal government.
At the same time, Quebec underwent profound social and economic changes through the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, giving birth to a modern nationalist movement. The radical Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) ignited the October Crisis in 1970 and the sovereignist Parti Québécois was elected in 1976, organizing an unsuccessful referendum on sovereignty-association in 1980. Attempts to accommodate Quebec nationalism constitutionally through the Meech Lake Accord failed in 1990. This led to the formation of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec and the invigoration of the Reform Party of Canada in the West. A second referendum followed in 1995, in which sovereignty was rejected by a slimmer margin of just 50.6 to 49.4 percent. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that unilateral secession by a province would be unconstitutional, and the Clarity Act was passed by parliament, outlining the terms of a negotiated departure from Confederation.
In addition to the issues of Quebec sovereignty, a number of crises shook Canadian society in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These included the explosion of Air India Flight 182 in 1985, the largest mass murder in Canadian history; the École Polytechnique massacre in 1989, a university shooting targeting female students; and the Oka Crisis of 1990, the first of a number of violent confrontations between the government and Aboriginal groups. Canada also joined the Gulf War in 1990 as part of a US-led coalition force, and was active in several peacekeeping missions in the late 1990s. Canada sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001, but declined to send forces to Iraq when the US invaded in 2003. In 2011, Canadian forces participated in the NATO-led intervention into the Libyan civil war.
A satellite composite image of Canada. Boreal forests prevail on the rocky Canadian Shield, while ice and tundra are prominent in the Arctic. Glaciers are visible in the Canadian Rockies and Coast Mountains. The flat and fertile prairies facilitate agriculture. The Great Lakes feed the St. Lawrence River in the southeast, where lowlands host much of Canada's population.
Canada occupies a major northern portion of North America, sharing the land borders with the contiguous United States to the south and the US state of Alaska to the northwest. Canada stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west; to the north lies the Arctic Ocean. By total area (including its waters), Canada is the second-largest country in the world, after Russia. By land area alone, Canada ranks fourth. The country lies between latitudes 41° and 84°N, and longitudes 52° and 141°W. Since 1925, Canada has claimed the portion of the Arctic between 60° and 141°W longitude, but this claim is not universally recognized. Canada is home to the world's northernmost settlement, Canadian Forces Station Alert, on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island – latitude 82.5°N – which lies 817 kilometres (508 mi) from the North Pole. Much of the Canadian Arctic is covered by ice and permafrost. Canada has the longest coastline in the world, with a total length of 202,080 kilometres (125,570 mi); additionally, its border with the United States is the world's longest land border, stretching over 8,890 kilometres (5,520 mi). The Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, is one of the world's most voluminous waterfalls, renowned both for its beauty and as a source of hydroelectric power. Since the end of the last glacial period, Canada has consisted of eight distinct forest regions, including extensive boreal forest on the Canadian Shield. Canada has more lakes than any other country, containing much of the world's fresh water. There are also fresh-water glaciers in the Canadian Rockies and the Coast Mountains. Canada is geologically active, having many earthquakes and potentially active volcanoes, notably Mount Meager, Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley, and the Mount Edziza volcanic complex. The volcanic eruption of the Tseax Cone in 1775 was among Canada's worst natural disasters, killing 2,000 Nisga'a people and destroying their village in the Nass River valley of northern British Columbia. The eruption produced a 22.5-kilometre (14.0 mi) lava flow, and, according to Nisga'a legend, blocked the flow of the Nass River.
Canada's population density, at 3.3 inhabitants per square kilometre (8.5 /sq mi), is among the lowest in the world. The most densely populated part of the country is the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor, situated in Southern Quebec and Southern Ontario along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Average winter and summer high temperatures across Canada vary from region to region. Winters can be harsh in many parts of the country, particularly in the interior and Prairie provinces, which experience a continental climate, where daily average temperatures are near −15 °C (5 °F), but can drop below −40 °C (−40 °F) with severe wind chills. In noncoastal regions, snow can cover the ground for almost six months of the year, while in parts of the north snow can persist year-round. Coastal British Columbia has a temperate climate, with a mild and rainy winter. On the east and west coasts, average high temperatures are generally in the low 20s °C (70s °F), while between the coasts, the average summer high temperature ranges from 25 to 30 °C (77 to 86 °F), with temperatures in some interior locations occasionally exceeding 40 °C (104 °F).
Government and politics
Parliament Hill in Canada's capital city, Ottawa
Canada has a strong democratic tradition, upheld through a parliamentary system within the context of a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy of Canada being the foundation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II, who also serves as head of state of 15 other Commonwealth countries and each of Canada's ten provinces and resides predominantly in the United Kingdom. As such, the Queen's representative, the Governor General of Canada (presently David Lloyd Johnston), carries out most of the federal royal duties in Canada. The direct participation of the royal and viceroyal figures in areas of governance is limited in practice, their use of the executive powers is directed by the Cabinet, a committee of ministers of the Crown responsible to the elected House of Commons and chosen and headed by the Prime Minister of Canada (presently Stephen Harper), the head of government, though the governor general or monarch may in certain crisis situations exercise their power without ministerial advice. To ensure the stability of government, the governor general will usually appoint as prime minister the person who is the current leader of the political party that can obtain the confidence of a plurality in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is thus one of the most powerful institutions in government, initiating most legislation for parliamentary approval and selecting for appointment by the Crown, besides the aforementioned, the governor general, lieutenant governors, senators, federal court judges, and heads of Crown corporations and government agencies. The leader of the party with the second-most seats usually becomes the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition (presently Nycole Turmel) and is part of an adversarial parliamentary system intended to keep the government in check.
The Senate chamber within the Centre Block on Parliament Hill
Each of the 308 Members of Parliament in the House of Commons is elected by simple plurality in an electoral district or riding. General elections must be called by the governor general, on the advice of the prime minister, within four years of the previous election, or may be triggered by the government losing a confidence vote in the House. The 105 members of the Senate, whose seats are apportioned on a regional basis, serve until age 75. Five parties had representatives elected to the federal parliament in the 2011 elections: the Conservative Party of Canada (governing party), the New Democratic Party (the Official Opposition), the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, and the Green Party of Canada. The list of historical parties with elected representation is substantial. Canada's federal structure divides government responsibilities between the federal government and the ten provinces. Provincial legislatures are unicameral and operate in parliamentary fashion similar to the House of Commons. Canada's three territories also have legislatures, but these are not sovereign and have fewer constitutional responsibilities than the provinces and with some structural differences.
The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of the country, and consists of written text and unwritten conventions. The Constitution Act, 1867 (known as the British North America Act prior to 1982) affirmed governance based on parliamentary precedent and divided powers between the federal and provincial governments; the Statute of Westminster 1931 granted full autonomy; and the Constitution Act, 1982, ended all legislative ties to the UK, added a constitutional amending formula, and added the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees basic rights and freedoms that usually cannot be overridden by any government – though a notwithstanding clause allows the federal parliament and provincial legislatures to override certain sections of the Charter for a period of five years.
The Indian Chiefs Medal, presented to commemorate the Numbered Treaties
Although not without conflict, European Canadians' early interactions with First Nations and Inuit populations were relatively peaceful. The Crown and Aboriginal peoples began interactions during the European colonialization period. Numbered Treaties, the Indian Act, the Constitution Act of 1982, and case laws were established. A series of eleven treaties were signed between Aboriginals in Canada and the reigning Monarch of Canada from 1871 to 1921. These treaties are agreements with the Government of Canada administered by Canadian Aboriginal law and overseen by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The role of the treaties was reaffirmed by Section Thirty-five of the Constitution Act, 1982, which "recognizes and affirms existing Aboriginal and treaty rights". These rights may include provision of services such as health care, and exemption from taxation. The legal and policy framework within which Canada and First Nations operate was further formalized in 2005, through the First Nations–Federal Crown Political Accord.
The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, west of Parliament Hill
Canada's judiciary plays an important role in interpreting laws and has the power to strike down laws that violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest court and final arbiter and has been led by the Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, P.C. (the first female Chief Justice) since 2000. Its nine members are appointed by the governor general on the advice of the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice. All judges at the superior and appellate levels are appointed after consultation with nongovernmental legal bodies. The federal cabinet also appoints justices to superior courts at the provincial and territorial levels.
Common law prevails everywhere except in Quebec, where civil law predominates. Criminal law is solely a federal responsibility and is uniform throughout Canada. Law enforcement, including criminal courts, is a provincial responsibility, but in rural areas of all provinces except Ontario and Quebec, policing is contracted to the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Foreign relations and military
Prime Minister Stephen Harper meeting President of the United States Barack Obama in 2009.
Canada and the United States share the world's longest undefended border, co-operate on military campaigns and exercises, and are each other's largest trading partner. Canada nevertheless has an independent foreign policy, most notably maintaining full relations with Cuba and declining to officially participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Canada also maintains historic ties to the United Kingdom and France and to other former British and French colonies through Canada's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and the Francophonie. Canada is noted for having a positive relationship with the Netherlands, owing, in part, to its contribution to the Dutch liberation during World War II. Canada currently employs a professional, volunteer military force of over 67,000 regular personnel and approximately 43,000 reserve personnel, including supplementary reserves. The unified Canadian Forces (CF) comprise the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force. Canada's strong attachment to the British Empire and Commonwealth led to major participation in British military efforts in the Second Boer War, World War I and World War II. Since then, Canada has been an advocate for multilateralism, making efforts to resolve global issues in collaboration with other nations. Canada was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and of NATO in 1949. During the Cold War, Canada was a major contributor to UN forces in the Korean War and founded the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in cooperation with the United States to defend against potential aerial attacks from the Soviet Union.
Canadian Army soldiers from the Royal 22nd Regiment deploying during UNITAS exercises in April 2009. During the Suez Crisis of 1956, future Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson eased tensions by proposing the inception of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, for which he was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize. As this was the first UN peacekeeping mission, Pearson is often credited as the inventor of the concept. Canada has since served in 50 peacekeeping missions, including every UN peacekeeping effort until 1989 and has since maintained forces in international missions in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere; Canada has sometimes faced controversy over its involvement in foreign countries, notably in the 1993 Somalia Affair.
Canada joined the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990 and hosted the OAS General Assembly in Windsor, Ontario, in June 2000 and the third Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001. Canada seeks to expand its ties to Pacific Rim economies through membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).
The Halifax-class frigate HMCS Regina, a warship of the Royal Canadian Navy, during the 2004 RIMPAC exercises.
In 2001, Canada had troops deployed to Afghanistan as part of the US stabilization force and the UN-authorized, NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force. Starting in July 2011, Canada began withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. The mission had cost 158 soldiers, one diplomat, two aid workers, and one journalist their lives, with an approximate cost of C$11.3 billion. Canada and the US continue to integrate state and provincial agencies to strengthen security along the Canada-United States border through the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. In February 2007, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Russia announced their joint commitment to a $1.5-billion project to help develop vaccines for developing nations, and called on other countries to join them. In August 2007, Canada's territorial claims in the Arctic were challenged after a Russian underwater expedition to the North Pole; Canada has considered that area to be sovereign territory since 1925. In July 2010, the federal government announced the largest purchase in Canadian military history – the acquisition of 65 F-35 Lightning II jet fighters, totalling C$9 billion. Between March and October 2011, Canadian forces participated in a UN-mandated NATO intervention into the 2011 Libyan civil war.
Provinces and territories
Canada is a federation composed of ten provinces and three territories. In turn, these may be grouped into regions: Western Canada, Central Canada, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Canada (Eastern Canada refers to Central Canada and Atlantic Canada together). Provinces have more autonomy than territories. The provinces are responsible for most of Canada's social programs (such as health care, education, and welfare) and together collect more revenue than the federal government, an almost unique structure among federations in the world. Using its spending powers, the federal government can initiate national policies in provincial areas, such as the Canada Health Act; the provinces can opt out of these, but rarely do so in practice. Equalization payments are made by the federal government to ensure that reasonably uniform standards of services and taxation are kept between the richer and poorer provinces.
A clickable map of Canada exhibiting its ten provinces and three territories, and their capitals.
Representatives of the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States sign the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992.
Canada is one of the world's wealthiest nations, with a 2011 nominal GDP of approximately US$1.75 trillion, and a very high per-capita income. It is a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the G8, and is one of the world's top ten trading nations. Canada is a mixed economy, ranking above the US and most western European nations on the Heritage Foundation's index of economic freedom. The largest foreign importers of Canadian goods are the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
In the past century, the growth of Canada's manufacturing, mining, and service sectors has transformed the nation from a largely rural economy to an advanced, urbanized, industrial one. Like many other First World nations, the Canadian economy is dominated by the service industry, which employs about three-quarters of the country's workforce. However, Canada is unusual among developed countries in the importance of its primary sector, in which the logging and petroleum industries are two of the most prominent elements.
Canada is one of the few developed nations that are net exporters of energy. Atlantic Canada possesses vast offshore deposits of natural gas, and Alberta also hosts large oil and gas resources. The immense Athabasca oil sands give Canada the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia. Canada is additionally one of the world's largest suppliers of agricultural products; the Canadian Prairies are one of the most important global producers of wheat, canola, and other grains. Canada is the largest producer of zinc and uranium, and is a leading exporter of many other natural resources, such as gold, nickel, aluminum, and lead. Many towns in northern Canada, where agriculture is difficult, are sustainable because of nearby mines or sources of timber. Canada also has a sizable manufacturing sector centred in southern Ontario and Quebec, with automobiles and aeronautics representing particularly important industries.
The Canadian economy is dominated by the service industry, which employs about three-quarters of the national workforce. Canada's economic integration with the United States has increased significantly since World War II. The Automotive Products Trade Agreement of 1965 opened the country's borders to trade in the automobile manufacturing industry. In the 1970s, concerns over energy self-sufficiency and foreign ownership in the manufacturing sectors prompted Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's Liberal government to enact the National Energy Program (NEP) and the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA). In the 1980s, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives abolished the NEP and changed the name of FIRA to "Investment Canada", in order to encourage foreign investment. The Canada – United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 1988 eliminated tariffs between the two countries, while the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) expanded the free-trade zone to include Mexico in 1994. In the mid-1990s, the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien began to post annual budgetary surpluses, and steadily paid down the national debt.
In 2008, Canada's imported goods were worth over $442.9 billion, of which $280.8 billion originated from the United States, $11.7 billion from Japan, and $11.3 billion from the United Kingdom. The country’s 2009 trade deficit totaled C$4.8 billion, compared with a C$46.9 billion surplus in 2008. The global financial crisis of 2008 caused a major recession, which led to rising unemployment in Canada. As of October 2009, Canada's national unemployment rate stands at 8.6 percent. Provincial unemployment rates vary from a low of 5.8 percent in Manitoba to a high of 17 percent in Newfoundland and Labrador. Between October 2008 and October 2010, the Canadian labour market lost 162,000 full-time jobs and a total of 224,000 permanent jobs. Canada's federal debt is estimated to total $566.7 billion for the 2010–11 fiscal year, up from $463.7 billion in 2008–09. Canada’s net foreign debt rose by $41 billion to $194 billion in the first quarter of 2010.
Science and technology
The Canadarm robotic manipulator in action on Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-116 mission in 2006.
Canada is an industrialized nation, with one of the world's most highly-developed science and technology sectors. In 2011, nearly 1.88% of Canada's GDP was allocated to research and development (R&D). The country has produced ten Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine and is home to a number of leading global technology firms, such as smartphone maker Research in Motion. Canada ranks twelfth in the world for Internet users as a proportion of the population, with 28 million users (equivalent to 84.3% of its total population).
The Canadian Space Agency operates one of the world's most active space programs, conducting space, planetary, and aviation research, and developing rockets and satellites. In 1984, Marc Garneau became Canada's first astronaut, serving as payload specialist on the STS-41-G Space Shuttle mission. As of 2012, nine Canadians have flown into space, over the course of fifteen manned missions. Canada is a participant in the International Space Station, and is a pioneer in space robotics, having constructed the Canadarm, Canadarm2 and Dextre robotic manipulators. Since the 1960s, Canada's aerospace industry has designed and built 10 marques of satellite, including Radarsat-1, Radarsat-2 and MOST. Canada has also produced a successful and widely-used sounding rocket, the Black Brant; over 1,000 Black Brants have been launched since the rocket's introduction in 1961. In addition, Canadian universities are working on the first domestic landing spacecraft, the Northern Light, which is designed to search for life on Mars and investigate the Martian atmosphere and electromagnetic radiation environment.
Demographics of Canada
The 2011 Canadian census counted a total population of 33,476,688, an increase of around 5.9% over the 2006 figure. Between 1990 and 2008, the population of Canada increased by 5.6 million, equivalent to 20.4% growth, compared to 21.7% growth in the United States and 31.2% growth in Mexico over the same period. According to OECD/World Bank population statistics, the world population grew by 27%, or 1.423 billion people, between 1990 and 2008. The main drivers of population growth in Canada are immigration and, to a lesser extent, natural growth. About four-fifths of Canada's population lives within 150 kilometers (93 mi) of the United States border. The majority of Canadians (approximately 80%) live in urban areas concentrated in the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor, the BC Lower Mainland, and the Calgary–Edmonton Corridor in Alberta. In common with many other developed countries, Canada is experiencing a demographic shift towards an older population, with more retirees and fewer people of working age. In 2006, the average age of the population was 39.5 years.
According to the 2006 census, the country's largest self-reported ethnic origin is Canadian (accounting for 32% of the population), followed by English (21%), French (15.8%), Scottish (15.1%), Irish (13.9%), German (10.2%), Italian (4.6%), Chinese (4.3%), First Nations (4.0%), Ukrainian (3.9%), and Dutch (3.3%). There are 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands encompassing 1,172,790 people. Canada's aboriginal population is growing at almost twice the national rate, and 3.8% of Canada's population claimed aboriginal identity in 2006. Another 16.2% of the population belonged to a non-aboriginal visible minority. The largest visible minority groups in Canada are South Asian (4.0%), Chinese (3.9%) and Black (2.5%). Between 2001 and 2006, the visible minority population rose by 27.2%. In 1961, less than 2% of Canada's population (about 300,000 people) could be classified as belonging to a visible minority group, and less than 1% as aboriginal. As of 2007, almost one in five Canadians (19.8%) were foreign-born. Nearly 60% of new immigrants come from Asia (including the Middle East). The leading emigrating countries to Canada were China, Philippines and India. By 2031, one in three Canadians could belong to a visible minority group.
Canada has one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world, driven by economic policy and family reunification, and is aiming for between 240,000 and 265,000 new permanent residents in 2012, the same number of immigrants as in recent years. In 2010, a record 280,636 people immigrated to Canada. New immigrants settle mostly in major urban areas like Toronto and Vancouver. Canada also accepts large numbers of refugees. The country resettles over one in 10 of the world’s refugees. According to the 2001 census, 77.1% of Canadians identify as being Christians; of this, Catholics make up the largest group, accounting for 43.6% of the population. The largest Protestant denomination is the United Church of Canada (accounting for 9.5% of Canadians), followed by Anglicans (6.8%), Baptists (2.4%), Lutherans (2%), and other Christian denominations (4.4%). About 16.5% of Canadians declare no religious affiliation, and the remaining 6.3% are affiliated with non-Christian religions, the largest of which are Islam (2.0%) and Judaism (1.1%).
Canadian provinces and territories are responsible for education. Each system is similar, while reflecting regional history, culture and geography. The mandatory school age ranges between 5–7 to 16–18 years, contributing to an adult literacy rate of 99%. In 2002, 43% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 possessed a post-secondary education; for those aged 25 to 34, the rate of post-secondary education reached 51.
In 2006, about 17.4% of the population was reportedly bilingual, being able to conduct a conversation in both official languages.
English – 57.8%
English and French (Bilingual) – 17.4%
French – 22.1%
Sparsely populated area (< 0.4 persons per km2)
Canada's two official languages are Canadian English and Canadian French. Official bilingualism is defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Official Languages Act, and Official Language Regulations; it is applied by the Commissioner of Official Languages. English and French have equal status in federal courts, Parliament, and in all federal institutions. Citizens have the right, where there is sufficient demand, to receive federal government services in either English or French, and official-language minorities are guaranteed their own schools in all provinces and territories. English and French are the first languages of 59.7% and 23.2% of the population respectively. Approximately 98% of Canadians speak English or French: 57.8% speak English only, 22.1% speak French only, and 17.4% speak both. English and French Official Language Communities, defined by First Official Language Spoken, constitute 73.0 and 23.6% of the population respectively.
The Charter of the French Language makes French the official language in Quebec. Although more than 85% of French-speaking Canadians live in Quebec, there are substantial Francophone populations in Ontario, Alberta, and southern Manitoba; Ontario has the largest French-speaking population outside Quebec. New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province, has a French-speaking Acadian minority constituting 33% of the population. There are also clusters of Acadians in southwestern Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton Island, and through central and western Prince Edward Island.
Other provinces have no official languages as such, but French is used as a language of instruction, in courts, and for other government services, in addition to English. Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec allow for both English and French to be spoken in the provincial legislatures, and laws are enacted in both languages. In Ontario, French has some legal status, but is not fully co-official. There are 11 Aboriginal language groups, composed of more than 65 distinct dialects. Of these, only the Cree, Inuktitut and Ojibway languages have a large enough population of fluent speakers to be considered viable to survive in the long term. Several aboriginal languages have official status in the Northwest Territories. Inuktitut is the majority language in Nunavut, and is one of three official languages in the territory.
In 2005, over six million people in Canada listed a non-official language as their mother tongue. Some of the most common non-official first languages include Chinese (mainly Cantonese; 1,012,065 first-language speakers), Italian (455,040), German (450,570), Punjabi (367,505) and Spanish (345,345). English and French are the most-spoken home languages, being spoken at home by 68.3% and 22.3% of the population respectively.
Bill Reid's 1980 sculpture Raven and The First Men. The Raven is a figure common to many of Canada's Aboriginal mythologies.
Canadian society is often depicted as being "very progressive, diverse, and multicultural". Canada's culture draws influences from its broad range of constituent nationalities, and policies that promote multiculturalism are constitutionally protected. In Quebec, cultural identity is strong, and many French-speaking commentators speak of a culture of Quebec that is distinct from English Canadian culture. However, as a whole, Canada is in theory a cultural mosaic – a collection of several regional, aboriginal, and ethnic subcultures. Government policies such as publicly-funded health care, higher taxation to distribute wealth, outlawing capital punishment, strong efforts to eliminate poverty, an emphasis on multiculturalism, stricter gun control, and legalization of same-sex marriage are social indicators of Canada's political and cultural values.
Historically, Canada has been influenced by British, French, and aboriginal cultures and traditions. Through their language, art and music, aboriginal peoples continue to influence the Canadian identity. Many Canadians value multiculturalism and see Canada as being inherently multicultural. American media and entertainment are popular, if not dominant, in English Canada; conversely, many Canadian cultural products and entertainers are successful in the United States and worldwide. Many cultural products are marketed toward a unified "North American" or global market. The preservation of a distinctly Canadian culture is supported by federal government programs, laws, and institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), the National Film Board of Canada, and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The Jack Pine, by Tom Thomson. Oil on canvas, 1916, in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
Canadian visual art has been dominated by figures such as Tom Thomson – the country's most famous painter – and by the Group of Seven. Thomson's career painting Canadian landscapes spanned just a decade up to his death in 1917 at age 39. The Group were painters with a nationalistic and idealistic focus, who first exhibited their distinctive works in May 1920. Though referred to as having seven members, five artists – Lawren Harris, A. Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, J. E. H. MacDonald, and Frederick Varley – were responsible for articulating the Group's ideas. They were joined briefly by Frank Johnston, and by commercial artist Franklin Carmichael. A. J. Casson became part of the Group in 1926. Associated with the Group was another prominent Canadian artist, Emily Carr, known for her landscapes and portrayals of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. The Canadian music industry has produced internationally renowned composers, musicians and ensembles. Music broadcasting in the country is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presents Canada's music industry awards, the Juno Awards, which were first awarded in 1970. The national anthem of Canada O Canada adopted in 1980, was originally commissioned by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, for the 1880 St. Jean-Baptiste Day ceremony. Calixa Lavallée wrote the music, which was a setting of a patriotic poem composed by the poet and judge Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The text was originally only in French, before it was translated to English in 1906.
A scene at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, seconds after Team Canada won a gold medal in men's ice hockey. Canada's official national sports are ice hockey and lacrosse. Hockey is a national pastime and the most popular spectator sport in the country. It is also the sport most played by Canadians, with 1.65 million participants reported in 2004. Seven of Canada's eight largest metropolitan areas – Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg – have franchises in the National Hockey League (NHL), and there are more Canadian players in the NHL than from all other countries combined. Other popular spectator sports include curling and football; the latter is played professionally in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Golf, baseball, skiing, soccer, cricket, volleyball, rugby league and basketball are widely played at youth and amateur levels, but professional leagues and franchises are not widespread.
Canada has hosted several high-profile international sporting events, including the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Canada was the host nation for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia.
Canada's national symbols are influenced by natural, historical, and Aboriginal sources. The use of the maple leaf as a Canadian symbol dates to the early 18th century. The maple leaf is depicted on Canada's current and previous flags, on the penny, and on the Arms of Canada. Other prominent symbols include the beaver, Canada Goose, Common Loon, the Crown, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and more recently, the totem pole and Inuksuk.
New Zealand Aotearoa
FlagCoat of arms
Anthem: "God Defend New Zealand"
"God Save the Queen"
NZ Sign Language (0.6%)
National languageEnglish (98%)
Ethnic groups 78% European/Other
6.9% Pacific peoples
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
- MonarchElizabeth II
- Governor-GeneralSir Jerry Mateparae
- Prime MinisterJohn Key
Independencefrom the United Kingdom
- New Zealand Constitution Act 185217 January 1853
- Dominion26 September 1907
- Statute of Westminster11 December 1931 (adopted 25 November 1947)
- Constitution Act 198613 December 1986
- Total268,021 km2 (75th)
- Water (%)1.6[n 5]
- September 2011 estimate4,414,400
CurrencyNew Zealand dollar (NZD)
Drives on theleft
New Zealand (Māori: Aotearoa) is an island country located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses ‒ that of the North and South Islands ‒ as well as numerous smaller islands. New Zealand is situated some 1,500 kilometres (900 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long isolation, New Zealand developed a distinctive biodiversity of both animal and plant life. Most notable are the large number of unique bird species, many of which became extinct after the arrival of humans and introduced mammals. With a mild maritime climate, the land was mostly covered in forest. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions caused by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates clashing beneath the earth's surface. Polynesians settled New Zealand in 1250–1300 CE and developed a distinctive Māori culture, and Europeans first made contact in 1642 CE. The introduction of potatoes and muskets triggered upheaval among Māori early during the 19th century, which led to the inter-tribal Musket Wars. In 1840 the British and Māori signed a treaty making New Zealand a colony of the British Empire. Immigrant numbers increased sharply and conflicts escalated into the New Zealand Wars, which resulted in much Māori land being confiscated in the mid North Island. Economic depressions were followed by periods of political reform, with women gaining the vote during the 1890s, and a welfare state being established from the 1930s. After World War II, New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty, although the United States later, until 2010, suspended the treaty after New Zealand banned nuclear weapons. New Zealand is part of the intelligence sharing among the Anglosphere countries, the UKUSA Agreement. New Zealanders enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world in the 1950s, but the 1970s saw a deep recession, worsened by oil shocks and the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community. The country underwent major economic changes during the 1980s, which transformed it from a protectionist to a liberalised free-trade economy. Markets for New Zealand's agricultural exports have diversified greatly since the 1970s, with once-dominant exports of wool being overtaken by dairy products, meat, and recently wine.
The majority of New Zealand's population is of European descent; the indigenous Māori are the largest minority, followed by Asians and non-Māori Polynesians. Māori and New Zealand Sign Language are the official languages, with English predominant. Much of New Zealand's culture is derived from Māori and early British settlers. Early European art was dominated by landscapes and to a lesser extent portraits of Māori. A recent resurgence of Māori culture has seen their traditional arts of carving, weaving and tattooing become more mainstream. Many artists now combine Māori and Western techniques to create unique art forms. The country's culture has also been broadened by globalisation and increased immigration from the Pacific Islands and Asia. New Zealand's diverse landscape provides many opportunities for outdoor pursuits and has provided the backdrop for a number of big budget movies.
New Zealand is organised into 11 regional councils and 67 territorial authorities for local government purposes; these have less autonomy than the country's long defunct provinces did. Nationally, executive political power is exercised by the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth II is the country's head of state and is represented by a Governor-General. The Queen's Realm of New Zealand also includes Tokelau (a dependent territory); the Cook Islands and Niue (self-governing but in free association); and the Ross Dependency, New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica. New Zealand is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Commonwealth of Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Pacific Islands Forum, and the United Nations.
Detail from a 1657 map showing the western coastline of "Nova Zeelandia"
Aotearoa (often translated as "land of the long white cloud") is the current Māori name for New Zealand, and is also used in New Zealand English. It is unknown whether Māori had a name for the whole country before the arrival of Europeans, with Aotearoa originally referring to just the North Island. Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 and called it Staten Landt, supposing it was connected to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America. In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand. Māori had several traditional names for the two main islands, including Te Ika-a-Māui (the fish of Māui) for the North Island and Te Wai Pounamu (the waters of greenstone) or Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki) for the South Island. Early European maps labelled the islands North (North Island), Middle (South Island) and South (Stewart Island / Rakiura). In 1830 maps began to use North and South to distinguish the two largest islands and by 1907 this was the accepted norm. The New Zealand Geographic Board discovered in 2009 that the names of the North Island and South Island had never been formalised, but there are now plans to do so. The board is also considering suitable Māori names with Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Wai Pounamu the most likely choices according to the chairman of the Māori Language Commission.
The Māori people are most likely descended from people that emigrated from Taiwan to Melanesia and then travelled east through to the Society Islands. After a pause of 70–265 years a new wave of exploration led to the discovery and settlement of New Zealand.
New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māori populations suggest New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300, concluding a long series of voyages through the southern Pacific islands. Over the centuries that followed these settlers developed a distinct culture now known as Māori. The population was divided into iwi (tribes) and hapū (subtribes) which would cooperate, compete and sometimes fight with each other. At some point a group of Māori migrated to the Chatham Islands (which they named Rēkohu) where they developed their distinct Moriori culture. The Moriori population was decimated between 1835 and 1862, largely because of Māori invasion and enslavement, although European diseases also contributed. In 1862 only 101 survived and the last known full-blooded Moriori died in 1933.
The first Europeans known to have reached New Zealand were Dutch explorer Abel Tasman and his crew in 1642. In a hostile encounter, four crew members were killed and at least one Māori was hit by canister shot. Europeans did not revisit New Zealand until 1769 when British explorer James Cook mapped almost the entire coastline. Following Cook, New Zealand was visited by numerous European and North American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They traded food, metal tools, weapons and other goods for timber, food, artefacts, water, and on occasion sex. The introduction of the potato and the musket transformed Māori agriculture and warfare. Potatoes provided a reliable food surplus, which enabled longer and more sustained military campaigns. The resulting inter-tribal Musket Wars encompassed over 600 battles between 1801 and 1840, killing 30,000–40,000 Māori. From the early 19th century, Christian missionaries began to settle New Zealand, eventually converting most of the Māori population. The Māori population declined to around 40 percent of its pre-contact level during the 19th century; introduced diseases were the major factor.
The Waitangi sheet from the Treaty of Waitangi
The British Government appointed James Busby as British Resident to New Zealand in 1832 and in 1835, following an announcement of impending French settlement by Charles de Thierry, the nebulous United Tribes of New Zealand sent a Declaration of the Independence to King William IV of the United Kingdom asking for protection. Ongoing unrest and the dubious legal standing of the Declaration of Independence prompted the Colonial Office to send Captain William Hobson to claim sovereignty for the British Crown and negotiate a treaty with the Māori. The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840. In response to the commercially run New Zealand Company's attempts to establish an independent settlement in Wellington and French settlers "purchasing" land in Akaroa, Hobson declared British sovereignty over all of New Zealand on 21 May 1840, even though copies of the Treaty were still circulating. With the signing of the Treaty and declaration of sovereignty the number of immigrants, particularly from the United Kingdom, began to increase.
New Zealand, originally part of the colony of New South Wales, became a separate Crown colony in 1841. The colony gained a representative government in 1852 and the 1st New Zealand Parliament met in 1854. In 1856 the colony effectively became self-governing, gaining responsibility over all domestic matters other than native policy. (Control over native policy was granted in the mid-1860s.) Following concerns that the South Island might form a separate colony, premier Alfred Domett moved a resolution to transfer the capital from Auckland to a locality near the Cook Strait. Wellington was chosen for its harbour and central location, with parliament officially sitting there for the first time in 1865. As immigrant numbers increased, conflicts over land led to the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s and 1870s, resulting in the loss and confiscation of much Māori land. In 1893 the country became the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote and in 1894 pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions.
In 1907 New Zealand declared itself a Dominion within the British Empire and in 1947 the country adopted the Statute of Westminster, making New Zealand a Commonwealth realm. New Zealand was involved in world affairs, fighting alongside the British Empire in the first and second World Wars and suffering through the Great Depression. The depression led to the election of the first Labour government and the establishment of a comprehensive welfare state and a protectionist economy. New Zealand experienced increasing prosperity following World War II and Māori began to leave their traditional rural life and move to the cities in search of work. A Māori protest movement developed, which criticised Eurocentrism and worked for greater recognition of Māori culture and the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1975, a Waitangi Tribunal was set up to investigate alleged breaches of the Treaty, and it was enabled to investigate historic grievances in 1985. The government has negotiated settlements of these grievances with many iwi, although Māori claims to the foreshore and seabed have proved controversial in the 2000s.
John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand since 2008
New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy, although its constitution is not codified. Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of New Zealand and the head of state. The Queen is represented by the Governor-General, whom she appoints on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Governor-General can exercise the Crown's prerogative powers (such as reviewing cases of injustice and making appointments of Cabinet ministers, ambassadors and other key public officials) and in rare situations, the reserve powers (the power to dismiss a Prime Minister, dissolve Parliament or refuse the Royal Assent of a bill into law). The powers of the Queen and the Governor-General are limited by constitutional constraints and they cannot normally be exercised without the advice of Cabinet.
Sir Jerry Mateparae
The Queen of New Zealand and her representative, the Governor-General
The Parliament of New Zealand holds legislative power and consists of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor-General) and the House of Representatives. It also included an upper house, the Legislative Council, until this was abolished in 1950. The supremacy of the House over the Sovereign was established in England by the Bill of Rights 1689 and has been ratified as law in New Zealand. The House of Representatives is democratically elected and a Government is formed from the party or coalition with the majority of seats. If no majority is formed a minority government can be formed if support from other parties during confidence and supply votes is assured. The Governor-General appoints ministers under advice from the Prime Minister, who is by convention the Parliamentary leader of the governing party or coalition. Cabinet, formed by ministers and led by the Prime Minister, is the highest policy-making body in government and responsible for deciding significant government actions. By convention, members of cabinet are bound by collective responsibility to decisions made by cabinet. Judges and judicial officers are appointed non-politically and under strict rules regarding tenure to help maintain constitutional independence from the government. This theoretically allows the judiciary to interpret the law based solely on the legislation enacted by Parliament without other influences on their decisions. The Privy Council in London was the country's final court of appeal until 2004, when it was replaced with the newly established Supreme Court of New Zealand. The judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice, includes the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and subordinate courts.
New Zealand government "Beehive" and the Parliament Buildings (right), in Wellington
Almost all parliamentary general elections between 1853 and 1996 were held under the first past the post voting system. The elections since 1930 have been dominated by two political parties, National and Labour. Since 1996, a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) has been used. Under the MMP system each person has two votes; one is for the seventy electoral seats (including seven reserved for Māori) and the other is for a party. The remaining fifty seats are assigned so that representation in parliament reflects the party vote, although a party has to win one electoral seat or 5 percent of the total party vote before it is eligible for these seats. Between March 2005 and August 2006 New Zealand became the only country in the world in which all the highest offices in the land (Head of State, Governor-General, Prime Minister, Speaker and Chief Justice) were occupied simultaneously by women.
Foreign relations and the military
Early colonial New Zealand allowed the British Government to determine external trade and be responsible for foreign policy. The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate their own political treaties, with the first successful commercial treaty being with Japan in 1928. Despite this independence New Zealand readily followed Britain in declaring war on Germany on 3 September 1939 with then Prime Minister Michael Savage proclaiming, "Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand."
Māori Battalion haka in Egypt, 1941
In 1951 the United Kingdom became increasingly focused on its European interests, while New Zealand joined Australia and the United States in the ANZUS security treaty. The influence of the United States on New Zealand weakened following protests over the Vietnam War, the refusal of the United States to admonish France after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, disagreements over environmental and agricultural trade issues and New Zealand's nuclear-free policy. Despite the USA's suspension of ANZUS obligations the treaty remained in effect between New Zealand and Australia, whose foreign policy has followed a similar historical trend. Close political contact is maintained between the two countries, with free trade agreements and travel arrangements that allow citizens to visit, live and work in both countries without restrictions. Currently over 500,000 New Zealanders live in Australia and 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand.
New Zealand has a strong presence among the Pacific Island countries. A large proportion of New Zealand's aid goes to these countries and many Pacific people migrate to New Zealand for employment. Permanent migration is regulated under the 1970 Samoan Quota Scheme and the 2002 Pacific Access Category, which allow up to 1,100 Samoan nationals and up to 750 other Pacific Islanders respectively to become permanent New Zealand residents each year. A seasonal workers scheme for temporary migration was introduced in 2007 and in 2009 about 8,000 Pacific Islanders were employed under it. New Zealand is involved in the Pacific Islands Forum, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum (including the East Asia Summit). New Zealand is also a member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Five Powers Defence Arrangements.
Infantry from the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Regiment in the Battle of the Somme, September 1916.
The New Zealand Defence Force has three branches: the Royal New Zealand Navy, the New Zealand Army and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. New Zealand's national defence needs are modest because of the unlikelihood of direct attack, although it does have a global presence. The country fought in both world wars, with notable campaigns in Gallipoli, Crete, El Alamein and Cassino. The Gallipoli campaign played an important part in fostering New Zealand's national identity and strengthened the ANZAC tradition it shares with Australia. According to Mary Edmond-Paul, "World War I had left scars on New Zealand society, with nearly 18,500 in total dying as a result of the war, more than 41,000 wounded, and others affected emotionally, out of an overseas fighting force of about 103,000 and a population of just over a million." New Zealand also played key parts in the naval Battle of the River Plate and the Battle of Britain air campaign. During World War II, the United States had more than 400,000 American military personnel stationed in New Zealand.
In addition to Vietnam and the two world wars, New Zealand fought in the Korean War, the Second Boer War, the Malayan Emergency, the Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. It has contributed forces to several regional and global peacekeeping missions, such as those in Cyprus, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sinai, Angola, Cambodia, the Iran–Iraq border, Bougainville, East Timor, and the Solomon Islands. New Zealand also sent a unit of army engineers to help rebuild Iraqi infrastructure for one year during the Iraq War.
Local government and external territories
Realm of New Zealand
The early European settlers divided New Zealand into provinces, which had a degree of autonomy. Because of financial pressures and the desire to consolidate railways, education, land sales and other policies, government was centralised and the provinces were abolished in 1876. As a result, New Zealand now has no separately represented subnational entities. The provinces are remembered in regional public holidays and sporting rivalries.
Since 1876, various councils have administered local areas under legislation determined by the central government. In 1989, the government reorganised local government into the current two-tier structure of regional councils and territorial authorities. The 249 municipalities that existed in 1975 have now been consolidated into 67 territorial authorities and 11 regional councils. The regional councils' role is to regulate "the natural environment with particular emphasis on resource management", while territorial authorities are responsible for sewage, water, local roads, building consents and other local matters. Five of the territorial councils are unitary authorities and also act as regional councils. The territorial authorities consist of 13 city councils, 53 district councils, and the Chatham Islands Council. While officially the Chatham Islands Council is not a unitary authority, it undertakes many functions of a regional council.
The Realm of New Zealand is one of 16 realms within the commonwealth and comprises New Zealand, Tokelau, the Ross Dependency, the Cook Islands and Niue. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. The New Zealand Parliament cannot pass legislation for these countries, but with their consent can act on behalf of them in foreign affairs and defence. Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory that uses the New Zealand flag and anthem, but is administered by a council of three elders (one from each Tokelauan atoll). The Ross Dependency is New Zealand's territorial claim in Antarctica, where it operates the Scott Base research facility. New Zealand citizenship law treats all parts of the realm equally, so most people born in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Ross Dependency before 2006 are New Zealand citizens.
Territorial authorities- 13 cities and 53 districts
Some districts lie in more than one region. These combine the regional and the territorial authority levels in one. Special territorial authorityThe outlying Solander Islands form part of the Southland RegionNew Zealand's Antarctic territory Non-self-governing territory of New Zealand States in free association with New Zealand.
The snow-capped Southern Alps dominate the South Island, while the North Island's Northland Peninsula stretches towards the subtropics.
New Zealand is made up of two main islands and a number of smaller islands, located near the centre of the water hemisphere. The main North and South Islands are separated by the Cook Strait, 22 kilometres (14 mi) wide at its narrowest point. Besides the North and South Islands, the five largest inhabited islands are Stewart Island, the Chatham Islands, Great Barrier Island (in the Hauraki Gulf), d'Urville Island (in the Marlborough Sounds) and Waiheke Island (about 22 km (14 mi) from central Auckland). The country's islands lie between latitudes 29° and 53°S, and longitudes 165° and 176°E. New Zealand is long (over 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) along its north-north-east axis) and narrow (a maximum width of 400 kilometres (250 mi)), with approximately 15,134 km (9,404 mi) of coastline and a total land area of 268,021 square kilometres (103,483 sq. mi) Because of its far-flung outlying islands and long coastline, the country has extensive marine resources. Its Exclusive Economic Zone, one of the largest in the world, covers more than 15 times its land area.
The South Island is the largest land mass of New Zealand, and is divided along its length by the Southern Alps. There are 18 peaks over 3,000 metres (9,800 ft.), the highest of which is Aoraki/Mount Cook at 3,754 metres (12,316 ft.). Fiordland's steep mountains and deep fiords record the extensive ice age glaciation of this south-western corner of the South Island. The North Island is less mountainous but is marked by volcanism. The highly active Taupo volcanic zone has formed a large volcanic plateau, punctuated by the North Island's highest mountain, Mount Ruapehu (2,797 metres (9,177 ft.)). The plateau also hosts the country's largest lake, Lake Taupo, nestled in the caldera of one of the world's most active supervolcanoes.
Abel Tasman National Park in the South Island
The country owes its varied topography, and perhaps even its emergence above the waves, to the dynamic boundary it straddles between the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. New Zealand is part of Zealandia, a microcontinent nearly half the size of Australia that gradually submerged after breaking away from the Gondwanan supercontinent. About 25 million years ago, a shift in plate tectonic movements began to contort and crumple the region. This is now most evident in the Southern Alps, formed by compression of the crust beside the Alpine Fault. Elsewhere the plate boundary involves the subduction of one plate under the other, producing the Puysegur Trench to the south, the Hikurangi Trench east of the North Island, and the Kermadec and Tonga Trenches further north.
New Zealand has a mild and temperate maritime climate with mean annual temperatures ranging from 10 °C (50 °F) in the south to 16 °C (61 °F) in the north. Historical maxima and minima are 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in Rangiora, Canterbury and −25.6 °C (−14.08 °F) in Ranfurly, Otago. Conditions vary sharply across regions from extremely wet on the West Coast of the South Island to almost semi-arid in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of inland Canterbury and subtropical in Northland. Of the seven largest cities, Christchurch is the driest, receiving on average only 640 millimetres (25 in) of rain per year and Auckland the wettest, receiving almost twice that amount. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch all receive a yearly average in excess of 2,000 hours of sunshine. The southern and south-western parts of the South Island have a cooler and cloudier climate, with around 1,400–1,600 hours; the northern and north-eastern parts of the South Island are the sunniest areas of the country and receive approximately 2,400–2,500 hours.
The endemic flightless kiwi is a national icon.
New Zealand's geographic isolation for 80 million years and island biogeography is responsible for the country's unique species of flora and fauna. They have either evolved from Gondwanan wildlife or the few organisms that have managed to reach the shores flying, swimming or being carried across the sea. About 82 percent of New Zealand's indigenous vascular plants are endemic, covering 1,944 species across 65 genera and includes a single family. The two main types of forest are those dominated by broadleaf trees with emergent podocarps, or by southern beech in cooler climates. The remaining vegetation types consist of grasslands, the majority of which are tussock. Before the arrival of humans an estimated 80 percent of the land was covered in forest, with only high alpine, wet, infertile and volcanic areas without trees. Massive deforestation occurred after humans arrived, with around half the forest cover lost to fire after Polynesian settlement. Much of the remaining forest fell after European settlement, being logged or cleared to make room for pastoral farming, leaving forest occupying only 23 percent of the land.
The forests were dominated by birds, and the lack of mammalian predators led to some like the kiwi, kakapo and takahē evolving flightlessness. The arrival of humans, associated changes to habitat, and the introduction of rats, ferrets and other mammals led to the extinction of many bird species, including large birds like the moa and Haast's eagle.
Other indigenous animals are represented by reptiles (tuataras, skinks and geckos), frogs, spiders (katipo), insects (weta) and snails. Some, such as the wrens and tuatara, are so unique that they have been called living fossils. Three species of bats (one since extinct) were the only sign of native land mammals in New Zealand until the 2006 discovery of bones from a unique, mouse-sized land mammal at least 16 million years old. Marine mammals however are abundant, with almost half the world's cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and large numbers of fur seals reported in New Zealand waters. Many seabirds breed in New Zealand, a third of them unique to the country. More penguin species are found in New Zealand than in any other country. Since human arrival almost half of the country's vertebrate species have become extinct, including at least fifty one birds, three frogs, three lizards, one freshwater fish, four plant species, and one bat. Others are endangered or have had their range severely reduced. However New Zealand conservationists have pioneered several methods to help threatened wildlife recover, including island sanctuaries, pest control, wildlife translocation, fostering, and ecological restoration of islands and other selected areas.
New Zealand has a modern, prosperous and developed market economy with an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) per capita of roughly US$28,250. The currency is the New Zealand dollar, informally known as the "Kiwi dollar"; it also circulates in the Cook Islands (see Cook Islands dollar), Niue, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands. New Zealand was ranked 5th in the 2011 Human Development Index, 4th in the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by The Heritage Foundation.
Milford Sound, one of New Zealand's most famous tourist destinations
Historically, extractive industries have contributed strongly to New Zealand's economy, focussing at different times on sealing, whaling, flax, gold, kauri gum, and native timber. With the development of refrigerated shipping in the 1880s meat and dairy products were exported to Britain, a trade which provided the basis for strong economic growth in New Zealand. High demand for agricultural products from the United Kingdom and the United States helped New Zealanders achieve higher living standards than both Australia and Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1973 New Zealand's export market was reduced when the United Kingdom joined the European Community and other compounding factors, such as the 1973 oil and 1979 energy crisis, led to a severe economic depression. Living standards in New Zealand fell behind those of Australia and Western Europe, and by 1982 New Zealand had the lowest per-capita income of all the developed nations surveyed by the World Bank. Since 1984, successive governments engaged in major macroeconomic restructuring (known first as Rogernomics and then Ruthanasia), rapidly transforming New Zealand from a highly protectionist economy to a liberalised free-trade economy.
Unemployment peaked above 10 percent in 1991 and 1992, following the 1987 share market crash, but eventually fell a record low of 3.4 percent in 2007 (ranking fifth from twenty-seven comparable OECD nations). The global financial crisis that followed however had a major impact on New Zealand with the GDP shrinking for five consecutive quarters, the longest recession in over thirty years and unemployment rising back to 7% in late 2009. The unemployment rate for youth was 17.4% in the June 2011 quarter. New Zealand has experienced a series of "brain drains" since the 1970s that still continue today. Nearly one quarter of highly skilled workers live overseas, most in Australia and Britain, the most from any developed nation. In recent years, however, a "brain gain" has brought in educated professionals from Europe and lesser developed countries.
New Zealand is heavily dependent on international trade, particularly in agricultural products. Exports account for a high 24 percent of its output, making New Zealand vulnerable to international commodity prices and global economic slowdowns. Its principal export industries are agriculture, horticulture, fishing, forestry and mining, which make up about half of the country's exports. Its major export partners are Australia, United States, Japan, China, and the United Kingdom. On 7 April 2008, New Zealand and China signed the New Zealand China Free Trade Agreement, the first such agreement China has signed with a developed country. The service sector is the largest sector in the economy, followed by manufacturing and construction and then farming and raw material extraction. Tourism plays a significant role in New Zealand's economy, contributing $15.0 billion to New Zealand’s total GDP and supporting 9.6 percent of the total workforce in 2010. International visitors to New Zealand increased by 3.1 percent in the year to October 2010 and are expected to increase at a rate of 2.5 percent annually up to 2015.
Wool has historically been one of New Zealand's major exports.
Wool was New Zealand’s major agricultural export during the late 19th century. Even as late as the 1960s it made up over a third of all export revenues, but since then its price has steadily dropped relative to other commodities and wool is no longer profitable for many farmers. In contrast dairy farming increased, with the number of dairy cows doubling between 1990 and 2007 to become New Zealand's largest export earner. In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21 percent ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports and the country's largest company, Fonterra, controls almost one-third of the international dairy trade. Other agricultural exports in 2009 were meat 13.2 percent, wool 6.3 percent, fruit 3.5 percent and fishing 3.3 percent. New Zealand's wine industry has followed a similar trend to dairy, the number of vineyards doubling over the same period, overtaking wool exports for the first time in 2007.
In 2008, oil, gas and coal generated approximately 69 percent of New Zealand's gross energy supply and 31% was generated from renewable energy, primarily hydroelectric power and geothermal power. New Zealand's transport network includes 93,805 kilometres (58,288 mi) of roads, worth 23 billion dollars and 4,128 kilometres (2,565 mi) of railway lines. Most major cities and towns are linked by bus services, although the private car is the predominant mode of transport. The railways were privatised in 1993, then re-purchased by the government in 2004 and vested into a state owned enterprise. Railways run the length of the country, although most lines now carry freight rather than passengers. Most international visitors arrive via air and New Zealand has seven international airports, although currently only the Auckland and Christchurch airports connect directly with countries other than Australia or Fiji. The New Zealand Post Office had a monopoly over telecommunications until 1989 when Telecom New Zealand was formed, initially as a state-owned enterprise and then privatised in 1990. Telecom still owns the majority of the telecommunications infrastructure, but competition from other providers has increased.
New Zealand's historical population (black) and projected growth (red)
The population of New Zealand is approximately 4.4 million. New Zealand is a predominantly urban country, with 72 percent of the population living in 16 main urban areas and 53 percent living in the four largest cities of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Hamilton. New Zealand cities generally rank highly on international livability measures. For instance, in 2010 Auckland was ranked the world's 4th most liveable city and Wellington the 12th by the Mercer Quality of Life Survey.
The life expectancy of a New Zealand child born in 2008 was 82.4 years for females, and 78.4 years for males. Life expectancy at birth is forecast to increase from 80 years to 85 years in 2050 and infant mortality is expected to decline. In 2050 the population is forecast to reach 5.3 million, the median age to rise from 36 years to 43 years and the percentage of people 60 years of age and older to rise from 18 percent to 29 percent.
Ethnicity and immigration
In the 2006 census, 67.6 percent identified ethnically as European and 14.6 percent as Māori. Other major ethnic groups include Asian (9.2 percent) and Pacific peoples (6.9 percent), while 11.1 percent identified themselves simply as a "New Zealander" (or similar) and 1 percent identified with other ethnicities. This contrasts with 1961, when the census reported that the population of New Zealand was 92 percent European and 7 percent Māori, with Asian and Pacific minorities sharing the remaining 1 percent. While the demonym for a New Zealand citizen is New Zealander, the informal "Kiwi" is commonly used both internationally and by locals. The Māori loanword Pākehā usually refers to New Zealanders of European descent, although some reject this appellation and some Māori use it to refer to all non-Polynesian New Zealanders. New Zealand's fastest growing ethnic groups are Asian. Here, lion dancers perform at the Auckland Lantern Festival.
The Māori were the first people to reach New Zealand, followed by the early European settlers. Following colonisation, immigrants were predominantly from Britain, Ireland and Australia because of restrictive policies similar to the white Australian policies. There was also significant Dutch, Dalmatian, Italian, and German immigration together with indirect European immigration through Australia, North America, South America and South Africa. Following the Great Depression policies were relaxed and migrant diversity increased. In 2009–10, an annual target of 45,000–50,000 permanent residence approvals was set by the New Zealand Immigration Service—more than one new migrant for every 100 New Zealand residents. Twenty-three percent of New Zealand's population were born overseas, most of whom live in the Auckland region. While most have still come from the United Kingdom and Ireland (29 percent), immigration from East Asia (mostly mainland China, but with substantial numbers also from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong) is rapidly increasing the number of people from those countries. The number of fee-paying international students increased sharply in the late 1990s, with more than 20,000 studying in public tertiary institutions in 2002.
English is the predominant language in New Zealand, spoken by 98 percent of the population. New Zealand English is similar to Australian English and many speakers from the Northern Hemisphere are unable to tell the accents apart. The most prominent differences between the New Zealand English dialect and other English dialects are the shifts in the short front vowels: the short-"i" sound (as in "kit") has centralised towards the schwa sound (the "a" in "comma" and "about"); the short-"e" sound (as in "dress") has moved towards the short-"i" sound; and the short-"a" sound (as in "trap") has moved to the short-"e" sound. Hence, the New Zealand pronunciation of words such as "bad", "dead", "fish" and "chips" sound like "bed", "did", "fush" and "chups" to non-New Zealanders.
After the Second World War, Māori were discouraged from speaking their own language (te reo Māori) in schools and workplaces and it existed as a community language only in a few remote areas. It has recently undergone a process of revitalisation, being declared one of New Zealand's official languages in 1987 and is spoken by 4.1 percent of the population. There are now Māori language immersion schools and two Māori Television channels, the only nationwide television channels to have the majority of their prime-time content delivered in Māori. Many places have officially been given dual Maori and English names in recent years. Samoan is one of the most widely spoken languages in New Zealand (2.3 percent), followed by French, Hindi, Yue and Northern Chinese. New Zealand Sign Language is used by approximately 28,000 people and was made New Zealand's second official language in 2006.
Education and religion
Primary and secondary schooling is compulsory for children aged 6 to 16, with the majority attending from the age of 5. There are 13 school years and attending public schools is free. New Zealand has an adult literacy rate of 99 percent, and over half of the population aged 15 to 29 hold a tertiary qualification. There are five types of government-owned tertiary institutions: universities, colleges of education, polytechnics, specialist colleges, and wānanga and also private training establishments. In the adult population 14.2 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher, 30.4 percent have some form of secondary qualification as their highest qualification and 22.4 percent have no formal qualification. Christianity is the predominant religion in New Zealand. In the 2006 Census, 55.6 percent of the population identified themselves as Christians, while another 34.7 percent indicated that they had no religion (up from 29.6 percent in 2001) and around 4 percent affiliated with other religions. The main Christian denominations are Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism and Methodism. There are also significant numbers of Christians who identify themselves with Pentecostal, Baptist, and Latter-day Saint churches and the New Zealand-based Ratana church has adherents among Māori. According to census figures, other significant minority religions include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
Late twentieth-century house-post depicting the navigator Kupe fighting two sea creatures.
Early Māori adapted the tropically based east Polynesian culture in line with the challenges associated with a larger and more diverse environment, eventually developing their own distinctive culture. Social organisation was largely communal with families (whanau), subtribes (hapu) and tribes (iwi) ruled by a chief (rangatira) whose position was subject to the community's approval. The British and Irish immigrants brought aspects of their own culture to New Zealand and also influenced Māori culture, particularly with the introduction of Christianity. However, Māori still regard their allegiance to tribal groups as a vital part of their identity, and Māori kinship roles resemble those of other Polynesian peoples. More recently American, Australian, Asian and other European cultures have exerted influence on New Zealand. Non-Māori Polynesian cultures are also apparent, with Pasifika, the world's largest Polynesian festival, now an annual event in Auckland.
Cook Islands dancers at Auckland's Pasifika festival
The largely rural life in early New Zealand led to the image of New Zealanders being rugged, industrious problem solvers. Modesty was expected and enforced through the "tall poppy syndrome", where high achievers received harsh criticism. At the time New Zealand was not known as an intellectual country. From the early 20th century until the late 1960s Māori culture was suppressed by the attempted assimilation of Māori into British New Zealanders. In the 1960s, as higher education became more available and cities expanded urban culture began to dominate. Even though the majority of the population now lives in cities, much of New Zealand's art, literature, film and humour has rural themes.
As part of the resurgence of Māori culture, the traditional crafts of carving and weaving are now more widely practised and Māori artists are increasing in number and influence. Most Māori carvings feature human figures, generally with three fingers and either a natural-looking, detailed head or a grotesque head. Surface patterns consisting of spirals, ridges, notches and fish scales decorate most carvings. The pre-eminent Māori architecture consisted of carved meeting houses (wharenui) decorated with symbolic carvings and illustrations. These buildings were originally designed to be constantly rebuilt, changing and adapting to different whims or needs.
Māori decorated the white wood of buildings, canoes and cenotaphs using red (a mixture of red ochre and shark fat) and black (made from soot) paint and painted pictures of birds, reptiles and other designs on cave walls. Māori tattoos (moko) consisting of coloured soot mixed with gum were cut into the flesh with a bone chisel. Since European arrival paintings and photographs have been dominated by landscapes, originally not as works of art but as factual portrayals of New Zealand. Portraits of Māori were also common, with early painters often portraying them as "noble savages", exotic beauties or friendly natives. The country's isolation delayed the influence of European artistic trends allowing local artists to developed their own distinctive style of regionalism. During the 1960s and 70s many artists combined traditional Māori and Western techniques, creating unique art forms. New Zealand art and craft has gradually achieved an international audience, with exhibitions in the Venice Biennale in 2001 and the "Paradise Now" exhibition in New York in 2004.
Portrait of Hinepare of Ngāti Kahungunu by Gottfried Lindauer, showing chin moko, pounamu hei-tiki and woven cloak
Māori cloaks are made of fine flax fibre and patterned with black, red and white triangles, diamonds and other geometric shapes. Greenstone was fashioned into earrings and necklaces, with the most well-known design being the hei-tiki, a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged with its head tilted to the side. Europeans brought English fashion etiquette to New Zealand, and until the 1950s most people dressed up for social occasions. Standards have since relaxed and New Zealand fashion has received a reputation for being casual, practical and lacklustre. However, the local fashion industry has grown significantly since 2000, doubling exports and increasing from a handful to about 50 established labels, with some labels gaining international recognition.
Māori quickly adopted writing as a means of sharing ideas, and many of their oral stories and poems were converted to the written form. Most early English literature was obtained from Britain and it was not until the 1950s when local publishing outlets increased that New Zealand literature started to become widely known. Although still largely influenced by global trends (modernism) and events (the Great Depression), writers in the 1930s began to develop stories increasingly focused on their experiences in New Zealand. During this period literature changed from a journalistic activity to a more academic pursuit. Participation in the world wars gave some New Zealand writers a new perspective on New Zealand culture and with the post-war expansion of universities local literature flourished.
New Zealand music has been influenced by blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip hop, with many of these genres given a unique New Zealand interpretation. Māori developed traditional chants and songs from their ancient South-East Asian origins, and after centuries of isolation created a unique "monotonous" and "doleful" sound. Flutes and trumpets were used as musical instruments or as signalling devices during war or special occasions. Early settlers brought over their ethnic music, with brass bands and choral music being popular, and musicians began touring New Zealand in the 1860s. Pipe bands became widespread during the early 20th century. The New Zealand recording industry began to develop from 1940 onwards and many New Zealand musicians have obtained success in Britain and the USA. Some artists release Māori language songs and the Māori tradition-based art of kapa haka (song and dance) has made a resurgence. The New Zealand Music Awards are held annually by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ); the awards were first held in 1965 by Reckitt & Colman as the Loxene Golden Disc Awards. The RIANZ also publishes the country's official weekly record charts.
Radio first arrived in New Zealand in 1922 and television in 1960. The number of New Zealand films significantly increased during the 1970s. In 1978 the New Zealand Film Commission started assisting local film-makers and many films attained a world audience, some receiving international acknowledgement. Deregulation in the 1980s saw a sudden increase in the numbers of radio and television stations. New Zealand television primarily broadcasts American and British programming, along with a large number of Australian and local shows. The country's diverse scenery and compact size, plus government incentives, have encouraged some producers to film big budget movies in New Zealand. The New Zealand media industry is dominated by a small number of companies, most of which are foreign-owned, although the state retains ownership of some television and radio stations. Between 2003 and 2008, Reporters Without Borders consistently ranked New Zealand's press freedom in the top twenty.
Statue of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary gazing towards Aoraki / Mount Cook
Most of the major sporting codes played in New Zealand have English origins. Golf, netball, tennis and cricket are the four top participatory sports, soccer is the most popular among young people and rugby union attracts the most spectators. Victorious rugby tours to Australia and the United Kingdom in the late 1880s and the early 1900s played an early role in instilling a national identity, although the sport's influence has since declined. Horse racing was also a popular spectator sport and became part of the "Rugby, Racing and Beer" culture during the 1960s. Māori participation in European sports was particularly evident in rugby and the country's team performs a haka (traditional Māori challenge) before international matches.
New Zealand has competitive international teams in rugby union, netball, cricket, rugby league, and softball and has traditionally done well in triathlons, rowing, yachting and cycling. The country has performed well on a medals-to-population ratio at Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games. New Zealand's national rugby union team is often regarded as the best in the world, and are the reigning World Cup holders. New Zealand are also the reigning rugby league world champions. New Zealand is known for its extreme sports, adventure tourism and strong mountaineering tradition. Other outdoor pursuits such as cycling, fishing, swimming, running, tramping, canoeing, hunting, snowsports and surfing are also popular. The Polynesian sport of waka ama racing has increased in popularity and is now an international sport involving teams from all over the Pacific.