Why Nobady Lives In Alaska

When you think of global powerhouses, countries like the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, and France often come to mind.

These nations boast gross domestic products (GDPs) in the trillions and populations of at least 65 million.

Now, imagine a place larger than all four of these combined—welcome to Alaska. At about 12.5% larger than these nations together, Alaska stands as a colossal entity, yet its population of roughly 736,000 is startlingly tiny in comparison.

A Vast Yet Empty Land

For a bit of perspective, Alaska’s land mass is six times that of the UK, but its population is about 98% smaller.

Even the relatively modest state of Pennsylvania outnumbers Alaska’s population by a factor of 20. To further illustrate this, the city core of San Antonio alone has double the number of residents as the entire state of Alaska.

So why is Alaska so sparsely populated? To understand, we need to travel back through Alaskan history.

From Purchase to Statehood

The United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. At the time, it was known as the Territory of Alaska and didn’t achieve statehood until January 3, 1959, when it and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th U.S. states, respectively.

In those 92 years, significant developments occurred: gold was discovered in 1880, major cities like Juneau and Anchorage were founded, and crucial infrastructure like the Alaskan Railroad and the Alaska Highway system were built.

However, a pivotal moment came just two years before statehood, with the discovery of oil. This discovery fundamentally altered Alaska’s role in the U.S. economy.

Oil: A Game-Changer

Oil was first discovered at Swanson River, followed by other deposits across the state, cementing Alaska as a vital resource hub.

Despite its remoteness—about 500 miles from Washington state but requiring a journey through Canada—Alaska’s oil industry necessitated the creation of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline in 1977, a project fraught with setbacks and challenges.

By 1970, Alaska’s population had grown to 300,000, a significant increase from 226,000 a decade earlier. However, even with continued growth at this rate, the population today would still be only about 1.1 million—far from dense.

Geography and Climate: Natural Barriers

A major reason for Alaska’s sparse population is its geography and climate.

The state is characterized by brutally cold, mountainous terrain, with temperatures ranging from zero to negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit from November to March. Home to 17 of the 20 tallest U.S. mountain peaks, over 3 million lakes, and 3,000 rivers, Alaska is as challenging as it is beautiful.

Additionally, it experiences more earthquakes than any other U.S. region, complicating infrastructure development.

Why Some Choose to Stay

Despite these harsh conditions, some 736,000 people call Alaska home. The state offers substantial financial incentives, including no individual income tax and the Alaska Permanent Fund, which pays residents a share of oil revenue profits.

With a median household income of about $80,000 and a median home price of $338,000, the financial appeal is clear.

Alaska’s economy thrives on tourism, oil and gas, construction, and real estate, boasting a GDP of nearly $50 billion and a high per capita GDP of almost $70,000. However, beyond numbers, it’s Alaska’s unique beauty, open spaces, and emphasis on personal freedom that attract residents.

The rugged, individualistic culture and recreational opportunities in this vast wilderness hold a special allure.

The Drawbacks

However, Alaska’s isolation, brutal winters, and lack of city amenities deter many. It was the last state to join the union, and much of its land is either owned by the government, corporations, or is simply uninhabitable due to geographic challenges.

The high cost of goods, driven by complex shipping logistics, further exacerbates the difficulty of living in Alaska.

In summary, Alaska’s sparse population is a result of its late statehood, harsh natural environment, and economic challenges.

Despite its enormous size and wealth of natural resources, living in Alaska requires a unique resilience and appreciation for its rugged beauty and freedom.

If you enjoyed this overview and want a deeper dive into Alaska’s principal cities like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, let me know in the comments! There’s so much more to explore in America’s most unique state.