Animated Map: The Comparative Might of Continents
We’ve come quite a long way since the time of Pangea. Today, the world’s continents are home to over 7.8 billion people, and each one is unique in its own way.
This video from the data visualization tool Vizzu compares the surface area, population, and GDP of the continents—all in terms of their contribution to the world’s total. Let’s dive further into the results of each category.
Click through to source to see the country breakdowns. Antarctica has been excluded from these calculations.
Surface Area: Does Size Matter?
When it comes to sheer land mass, Asia emerges on top with over one-third of the global surface area. On that front, it certainly has a little help from the combined forces of Russia and China, even as the former overlaps Eastern Europe as well.
|Rank||Region||Share of Global Surface Area||Largest Country|
|#3||North America||17.1%||🇨🇦 Canada|
|#4||South America||13.2%||🇧🇷 Brazil|
Africa comes in second, but doesn’t lag behind by much. A stone’s throw from Europe, Algeria is the largest country on the continent—and the 10th largest in the world.
Failing to grasp the true size of Africa is a common mental mistake, as many maps systematically underestimate its scale. The continent could easily fit the entirety of China, India, the U.S., and multiple European countries within its borders.
Population: Packing People Together
Another way to look at things is in terms of the number of inhabitants in each region. Asia is once again on top, with almost two-thirds of the world squeezed onto the continent.
|Rank||Region||Share of Global Population||Most Populous Country|
|#4||North America||7.7%||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#5||South America||5.6%||🇧🇷 Brazil|
Asia’s lead in population is impressive, but it’s a margin that is unlikely to last forever.
By the year 2100—new estimates show the populations India and China could start to dip. Meanwhile Nigeria, which is already Africa’s most populous country with near 196 million people, could potentially quadruple in numbers in the same time frame.
In this metric, Europe also rises to third place. This is thanks again to the approximately 146 million people within Russia. However, if only the countries located completely within the continent are considered, Germany’s population of nearly 84 million would win out.
GDP: Emerging Wealth Overtakes
Finally, economic output—measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—is the most common way to assess the relative prosperity of countries and continents.
At this, the U.S. dominates with $21.4T according to the World Bank, though it swaps places with China which boasts $23.5T when adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP).
|Rank||Region||Share of Global GDP||Richest Country (both nominal and PPP)|
|#2||North America||28.9%||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#4||South America||5.1%||🇧🇷 Brazil|
Global wealth share drops sharply between Europe and South America, though it’s worth noting that rising inequality is also hidden under the surface within many high-income regions.
In terms of overall GDP, the Asian continent makes up the lion’s share. Asia is also home to many of the world’s emerging markets—which means there may be an even more pronounced shift of wealth towards the East in coming decades.
Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries
These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.
As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.
In the last 100 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.
This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.
France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs
Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.
France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.
Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.
Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.
That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).
Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast
In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.
Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.
The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.
Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.
However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.
Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes
Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.
Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.
Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.
In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.
Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.
According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.
By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.
It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.
As Teo puts it:
“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”
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