Animated Map: The Comparative Might of Continents
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Demographics

Animated Map: The Comparative Might of Continents

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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.

RankRegionShare of Global Surface AreaLargest Country
#1Asia36.5%🇷🇺 Russia
#2Africa22.3%🇩🇿 Algeria
#3North America17.1%🇨🇦 Canada
#4South America13.2%🇧🇷 Brazil
#5Oceania6.4%🇦🇺 Australia
#6Europe4.6%🇷🇺 Russia

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.

RankRegionShare of Global PopulationMost Populous Country
#1Asia61.8%🇨🇳 China
#2Africa16.1%🇳🇬 Nigeria
#3Europe8.2%🇷🇺 Russia
#4North America7.7%🇺🇸 U.S.
#5South America5.6%🇧🇷 Brazil
#6Oceania0.5%🇦🇺 Australia

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).

RankRegionShare of Global GDPRichest Country (both nominal and PPP)
#1Asia36.9%🇨🇳 China
#2North America28.9%🇺🇸 U.S.
#3Europe23.9%🇩🇪 Germany
#4South America5.1%🇧🇷 Brazil
#5Africa3.1%🇳🇬 Nigeria
#6Oceania2.1%🇦🇺 Australia

Source: World Bank for both GDP Nominal and PPP, 2019.

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.

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Demographics

Mapped: The World’s Population Density by Latitude

How much of the Earth’s population is located near the equator? This map visualizes the world’s population density by latitude.

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A map of the world population by latitude.

Mapped: The World’s Population Density by Latitude

When you think about areas with high population densities, certain regions spring to mind. This could be a populous part of Asia or a cluster of cities in North America or Europe.

Usually density comparisons are made using cities or countries, but this map from Alasdair Rae provides another perspective. This world map depicts population density by latitude, going from the densest populated coordinates in deep red to the sparsest in light blue.

Why Certain Latitudes (and Regions) Are More Densely Populated

Numerous factors affect an area’s population density. These can range from topography, or the physical terrain characteristics of the place, to more direct factors like an area’s climate, which can impact both the survivability and agricultural potential.

Political, economic, and social factors are also at play⁠—for example, there is a natural lack of livelihood opportunities in sparse areas such as the Amazon rainforest or the Himalayas.

Breaking down the population by latitude, we see the population becomes more concentrated near the equator. In particular, the 25th and 26th parallel north are the most densely populated latitude circles. Around 279 million people reside in these latitude lines, which run through large countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, the United States, Mexico, and others.

Despite their large landmasses, many of these countries do not themselves have very high population densities. Since density measures the ratio of people to physical space, countries with vast but sparse regions like China and India are less dense than imagined.

Out of the top 10 most densely populated countries in the world, only a couple can be found on the 25th and 26th parallel north⁠—Bangladesh and Bahrain. For a size comparison, Bangladesh is 1.55% the size of China, and Bahrain is only 0.01%.

The Future of Population Density Near the Equator

Looking ahead to 2100, the UN projects that the global population will rise to almost 11 billion. This would increase global population density from 59.11 people per square kilometer in 2022 to 80.82 per square kilometer in 2100.

However, the projections show that Asia will not be the biggest contributor to this growth. Instead, the most considerable jump in population is predicted for Africa, set to grow by almost 200% from almost 1.5 billion people today to 4.3 billion in 2100.

The equator runs right through the middle of Africa and crisscrosses countries like the Congo (both the Republic and DRC), Kenya, Gabon, Uganda, and Somalia.

As Africa’s population expands, this means that at latitudes near the equator, there could be even higher population densities coming. Or course, this largely depends on how the world’s fastest growing cities⁠—most of which are in Africa⁠—shape up over the coming decades.

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Demographics

The Yuxi Circle: The World’s Most Densely Populated Area

Population density varies across the globe. These maps use geographical circles to show the most densely populated areas on multiple continents.

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The Yuxi Circle: The World’s Most Densely Populated Area

The Yuxi Circle: The World’s Most Densely Populated Area

If you wanted to capture over 55% of the global population inside a circle with a 4,000km radius, which city would you place at its epicenter?

In 2013, a post appeared on Reddit marking a circular area of the globe with “more people living inside this circle than outside of it.” The circle had a radius of 4,000 km (just under 2,500 miles) and was named the Valeriepieris circle after author Ken Myers’ username.

Acknowledging that the Valeriepieris circle is not actually a circle (it was drawn on a two-dimensional map rather than a globe) and is based on data that has become outdated, mapmaker Alasdair Rae went digging and discovered what he calls The Yuxi Circle, the world’s most densely populated area.

Introducing the Yuxi Circle

Rae traced circles around 1,500 cities worldwide to find out how many people lived within a 4,000 km radius, just like the original Valeriepieris circle. He based his calculations on WorldPop data from 2020, based on a global population of 7.8 billion people.

Of the 1,500 circles that Rae made calculations for, 148 contained populations of 4 billion or more. He found many examples in Asia including in China, Myanmar (Mandalay), Laos (Vientiane), Bangladesh (Chattogram), India (Agartala), Bhutan (Thimpu), and Vietnam (Hanoi) to name a few.

But of them all, Yuxi, a city in the Yunnan province of China, has the largest population living within a 4,000 km radius: 4.32 billion.

Put another way? The circle encompasses over 55% of the world’s population, despite including desolate areas like the Taklamakan Desert, the Tibetan Plateau, Mongolia, and Southern Siberia.

Densely Populated Areas Around the Globe

Rae’s search for densely populated clusters also turned up notable circles beyond Asia. They surrounded cities like Cairo, Paris, and Mexico City.

Note: Keep in mind that the white lines on the flat maps are equidistant circles but will only look like circles when plotted on a globe.

The World’s Most Densely Populated Areas - Hanoi

Circling Hanoi yields a population of 4.27 billion (54% of the global population). It was the runner up city circle in Rae’s original search.

Populated Area Circles - Cairo

Circling Cairo yields a population of 2.29 billion. This circle reaches most of Europe while still containing populated areas of India, Pakistan, and Africa.

Populated Area Circles - Paris

Comparatively, circling Paris yields a population of 1.19 billion. This Euro-centric circle contains large tracts of water and scarcely populated islands such as Iceland and Greenland.

Populated Area Circles - Mexico City

Across the Atlantic, circling Mexico City yields a population of 0.73 billion. It’s significantly smaller than the other circles, as the total population in the Americas is concentrated in just three countries, the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil (not included in this circle).

It’s worth noting that the Valeriepieris circle also inspired other people to look at population density in different ways. In 2015, Danny Quah of the London School of Economics looked more closely at the Valeriepieris circle and was inspired to find the smallest circle with more people living inside of it than outside. He determined that a circle with a radius of 3,300 km centered near Mong Khet, Myanmar was “the world’s tightest cluster of people.”

While the Yuxi Circle contains the largest population using Rae’s approach as of early 2022, global populations are constantly changing. Who knows where the next Yuxi Circle will be?

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