The continent of North America contains 23 countries and 18 dependencies distributed in the three subregions of the continent known as North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The division of the continent into the subregions is largely based on geography with North America being the subregion located to the north of the isthmus of Central America connecting North America with South America. The Caribbean subregion consists of all the island countries located in the Caribbean Sea.
Here is a brief description of the subregions of the continent and the countries and dependencies that are part of these subregions:
North America (subregion)
- The United States Of America
The region of Northern America consists of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the dependencies of St. Pierre and Miquelon, Greenland, and Bermuda. Canada is the largest country in both Northern America region and North American continent as a whole. It is also the second biggest country in the world. Only Russia is larger. The smallest territory in Northern America is the French dependency of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which is a small island archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, just off the coast of the Canadian island of Newfoundland.
The subregion has a population of more than 450 million. The U.S. is the most populous country in North America, with a population of approximately 332 million. Mexico, the second most populous country in the region and the world's 10th most populous country has a population of around 127 million. Canada’s population is just under 38 million. The populations of North America’s countries are incredibly diverse. There are people living in Canada and the United States, who trace their ancestry to all corners of the world.
Although their numbers were decimated by the effects of European contact, aboriginals in the U.S. and Canada are still present, and determined to hang on to their culture and traditions. Canada often defines itself as a multicultural country; a country in which people are encouraged to maintain the cultures and traditions that they brought with them from wherever they or their ancestors immigrated from. In contrast, the U.S., though being just as diverse as Canada, if not more so, prides itself as being a melting pot. A country in which the world’s cultures contribute to the American way of life, but in which people are encouraged to be Americans first and foremost.
English is the most widely spoken language in North America. There are, however, other significant linguistic communities. For example, English and French are both official languages in Canada. The Canadian province of Quebec is mostly French-speaking. There are also large francophone communities in other parts of Canada. Pockets of French-speakers can also be found in the U.S., including the Cajun culture in the U.S. state of Louisiana. In addition, there are millions of Spanish speakers in Northern America, the vast majority of whom live in the U.S., especially in southern and southwestern states like Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and California.
The economy of Northern America is just as dynamic as the region’s people. Just about every type of economic activity has a place in the subregion. The U.S. has the world’s biggest economy, which makes up almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. Canada’s economy is not nearly as big as that of the U.S., but it is a member of the G7, which is a group of the world’s most advanced economies. Both Canada and the U.S. have vast amounts of natural resources. Some U.S. states and Canadian provinces are well-known for the presence of specific industries. Oil and gas, for example, are exceptionally important industries in the U.S. state of Texas and the Canadian province of Alberta. Fishing is an important industry in the maritime provinces of Canada. And the U.S. state of California is well-known for being the home of Silicon Valley, one of the world’s most important centers of technological innovation. Mexico’s economy is the smallest of the region, and is highly dependent on exports. Mexico’s main exports include automobiles, electrical machinery and equipment, and mineral fuels, including oil. As you might imagine, Mexico’s biggest trading partner is the U.S., which was the destination of 80% of the country’s exports in 2018.
Is Mexico In North America Or Central America?
Although Mexico is generally included as part of North America, some sources like the UN Geoscheme place it in Central America. There are several arguments favoring the placement of Mexico in the subregion of North America. Only a small portion of Mexico is part of the isthmus including the other 7 countries that make up Central America. This isthmus connects Canada, the US, and the rest of Mexico to South America. Thus, since most of Mexico's land area is not part of the isthmus, it can be left out of Central America. Also, Mexico was not part of the former Federal Republic of Central America formed in 1821. Mexico and Central America also separately gained indpendence from Spain. Thus, Mexico can be regarded as part of the North American subregion and not Central America.
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
Central America has 7 countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize. The population of the region is approximately 47 million. Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America, with a population of about 17 million. Nicaragua is the largest in land area. Belize is the least populous country in Central America. It has a population of less than 400 thousand. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America by land area.
In centuries past, Central America was home to the great pre-Columbian Aztec and Maya civilizations. Today, the descendants of those civilizations and other pre-Columbian populations live alongside people of European ancestry and people of mixed heritage. Much of the culture of Central America is a reflection of the mixing of pre-Columbian and European traditions. Spanish is the official language of every Central American country, except Belize, where English is the official language. Some indigenous languages are also still spoken in Central America. Mayan languages are still spoken in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The economies of Central America are all developing economies. Historically, Central America’s smaller countries have relied on the export of bananas and coffee. In fact, the term “banana republic” was originally ascribed to Central America’s smaller states. These small countries have managed to diversify their economies to some extent in recent decades, but violence and political instability stifle further gains.
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- Dominican Republic
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
There are 13 countries and 15 dependencies in the Caribbean. More than 7,000 individual islands can be found in the Caribbean Sea. They are all part of three main island groups. The first group is the Greater Antilles, which consists of the largest Caribbean islands. This is where you will find the countries of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. The Lesser Antilles are the small islands in the south of the Caribbean Sea, where you will find countries like Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica, as well as dependencies like the Virgin Islands, Aruba, Martinique, and Curacao. The third island group is the Lucayan Archipelago, where the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos islands are located.
The total population of the Caribbean is approximately 43 million, making it the least populous subregion of North America. Haiti is the most populous country in the Caribbean, with around 11.4 million people, while the tiny island dependency of Monserrat is the least populous with less than five thousand inhabitants. Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean by land area, while St. Kitts and Nevis is the smallest, though the French dependency of St. Bart’s is even smaller.
Many of the people of the Caribbean are descendants of slaves brought from Africa, while a few are of European ancestry, and others are of mixed ancestry, including those descended from the indigenous Taino and Kalinago peoples. Caribbean culture mixes African, European, and indigenous traditions.
In terms of language, the people of the Caribbean generally speak the languages of their islands’ current or former colonizers. The people of Jamaica and other former or current British colonies speak English. French is the official language of Haiti, and is also spoken in French Caribbean dependencies like Martinique and St. Bart’s. Dutch is spoken in Dutch dependencies like Aruba and Curacao. Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic, and is also an official language of Puerto Rico, alongside English. In addition, some people in the Caribbean speak dialects of Creole, which is a fusion of European languages and languages from Western Africa.