CRF Blog

Our World in Data: World Population Growth

by Bill Hayes

Our World in Data works “to make the knowledge on the big problems accessible and understandable.” It explores World Population Growth with graphics, charts, interactive maps, facts, and insights on many aspects of population growth. Below is just a brief section of a long report on population growth.

 Our understanding of the world is often shaped by geographical maps. But this tells us nothing about where in the world people live. To understand this, we need to look at population density.

In the map below we see the number of people per square kilometer (km2) across the world.

Globally the average population density is 25 people per km2, but there are very large differences across countries.

Many of the world’s small island or isolated states have large populations for their size. Macao, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar are the five most densely populated. Singapore has nearly 8,000 people per km2 – more than 200 times as dense as the US, and 2000 times that of Australia.

Of the larger countries, Bangladesh is the most densely-populated with 1,252 people per square kilometer; this is almost three times as dense as its neighbour, India. It’s followed by Lebanon (595), South Korea (528), the Netherlands (508) and Rwanda (495 per km2) completing the top five.

If you hover the mouse on the bracket from 0 to 10 on the legend then you see the world’s least densely populated countries. Greenland is the least dense, with less than 0.2 people per square km2, followed by Mongolia, Namibia, Australia and Iceland. In our population cartogram these are the countries that take up much less space than on a standard geographical map.

If we want to understand how people are distributed across the world, another useful tool is the population cartogram: a geographical presentation of the world where the size of the countries are not drawn according to the distribution of land, but according to the distribution of people.

Here we show how the world looks in this way. When we see a standard map we tend to focus on the largest countries by area. But these are not always where the greatest number of people live. It’s this context we need if we want to understand how the lives of people around the world are changing. [more]

For balanced, free classroom lessons on population issues, see The Debate Over World Population: Was Malthus Right? from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.