Does a City’s Population Size Impact its Quality of Life?
City living isn’t everyone’s cup of tea—the world’s most populous cities especially can be hectic, noisy, and busy.
Yet, despite the chaos of urban life, cities offer inhabitants a number of comforts and conveniences that are harder to find in smaller towns. That’s why more people are moving into urban areas around the world.
But do these conveniences reflect in people’s quality of lives?
According to research compiled by Elaine Siu, bigger doesn’t always mean better—at least when it comes to population size. This interactive visualization takes a deep dive into this dataset.
Measuring Quality of Life
Siu uses data from Numbeo’s 2022 Quality of Life Index to compare the quality of life in nearly 200 different cities around the world. For the purposes of this research, Siu used cities with metropolitan area populations of over 500,000.
The index measures quality of life using eight different metrics:
- Cost of Living
- Purchasing Power
- Property Price to Income Ratio
- Traffic Commute Time
A majority of the metrics (six of the eight) seemed to correlate with population size, suggesting that the bigger a city’s population is, the lower its quality of life in those metrics.
Here’s a look at the full list of cities included in the study, along with their overall quality of life scores and their metro area populations:
|City||Quality of Life Index||Metro Area Population|
|The Hague (Den Haag), Netherlands||204.88||709,388|
|Charlotte, NC, United States||194.31||2,701,046|
|Seattle, WA, United States||194.3||4,018,762|
|Oklahoma City, OK, United States||192.79||1,441,647|
|Austin, TX, United States||192.56||2,352,426|
|Quebec City, Canada||192.11||837,814|
|Columbus, OH, United States||191.34||2,151,017|
|San Diego, CA, United States||188.18||3,286,069|
|San Antonio, TX, United States||188.14||2,601,788|
|San Jose, CA, United States||187.16||1,952,185|
|Edinburgh, United Kingdom||185.01||548,206|
|Kansas City, MO, United States||181.28||2,199,490|
|Albuquerque, NM, United States||181.09||918,259|
|Glasgow, United Kingdom||179.79||1,688,907|
|Dubai, United Arab Emirates||178.96||2,964,382|
|Portland, OR, United States||176.92||2,511,612|
|Dallas, TX, United States||175.71||7,759,615|
|Jacksonville, FL, United States||175.25||1,637,666|
|Boston, MA, United States||174.52||4,899,932|
|Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates||173.13||1,539,830|
|Milwaukee, WI, United States||171.44||1,566,487|
|Indianapolis, IN, United States||171.2||2,126,804|
|Houston, TX, United States||170.9||7,206,841|
|Tucson, AZ, United States||168.76||1,052,030|
|Denver, CO, United States||167.36||2,972,566|
|Nashville, TN, United States||164.87||2,012,476|
|Bristol, United Kingdom||164.74||700,630|
|Atlanta, GA, United States||163.99||6,144,050|
|Sacramento, CA, United States||163.54||2,411,428|
|Washington, DC, United States||162.88||6,356,434|
|Auckland, New Zealand||161||1,652,341|
|Baltimore, MD, United States||160.36||2,838,327|
|Belfast, United Kingdom||159.26||638,717|
|Prague, Czech Republic||158.87||1,318,085|
|San Francisco, CA, United States||157.57||4,623,264|
|Philadelphia, PA, United States||154.13||6,228,601|
|Phoenix, AZ, United States||151.95||4,946,145|
|Riyadh, Saudi Arabia||150.72||7,538,200|
|Birmingham, United Kingdom||149.32||2,645,598|
|Las Vegas, NV, United States||148.17||2,292,476|
|Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel||147.84||4,343,584|
|Manchester, United Kingdom||147.47||2,770,434|
|Cape Town, South Africa||145.05||4,800,954|
|Chicago, IL, United States||144.81||9,509,934|
|Jeddah (Jiddah), Saudi Arabia||144.4||4,780,740|
|Los Angeles, CA, United States||139.75||12,997,353|
|Nizhny Novgorod, Russia||139.25||1,252,917|
|Durban, South Africa||139.09||3,199,329|
|New York, NY, United States||137.32||19,768,458|
|Pretoria, South Africa||133.25||2,739,768|
|Detroit, MI, United States||133.05||4,365,205|
|Johannesburg, South Africa||132.58||6,065,354|
|Chiang Mai, Thailand||127.81||1,197,931|
|Sharjah, United Arab Emirates||127.77||1,785,684|
|London, United Kingdom||126.14||9,540,576|
|Seoul, South Korea||125.66||9,975,709|
|Krakow (Cracow), Poland||123.44||769,595|
|San Juan, Puerto Rico||118.97||2,442,512|
|Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||117.7||8,419,566|
|Kuwait City, Kuwait||116.64||3,238,523|
|San Jose, Costa Rica||115.02||1,441,324|
|Panama City, Panama||110.94||1,937,963|
|Porto Alegre, Brazil||107.74||4,185,488|
|Belo Horizonte, Brazil||107.2||6,194,292|
|Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine||106.88||3,010,209|
|Odessa (Odesa), Ukraine||106.41||1,007,989|
|Hong Kong, Hong Kong||103.85||7,643,256|
|Skopje, North Macedonia||101.02||605,996|
|Buenos Aires, Argentina||99.23||15,369,919|
|Saint Petersburg, Russia||97.91||5,535,556|
|Guatemala City, Guatemala||95.46||3,036,405|
|Mexico City, Mexico||85.94||22,085,140|
|Sao Paulo, Brazil||78.54||22,429,800|
|Rio de Janeiro, Brazil||70.28||13,634,274|
|Colombo, Sri Lanka||66.85||625,637|
|Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam||66.41||9,077,158|
It’s worth noting that the negative correlation between the quality of life and population size only appeared in cities above the median population of 2.4 million people, indicating that the size of a city doesn’t appear to impact quality of life until a certain tipping point. Then, above the median, there’s a blatant downward trend.
However, Tokyo is an anomaly—its quality of life is much higher than it’s metropolitan population would predict.
Zooming in on Tokyo
Despite being the world’s largest urban area, Tokyo compares favorably compared to other top megacities across the index. When ranked among the top five megacities, it places in first for Purchasing Power, Safety, Traffic Commute Time, Cost of Living, Healthcare, and Pollution.
What’s so special about Tokyo? One major thing going for the Japanese city is its immaculate public transport system. The city’s transport is so efficient, the city’s rail service once issued a public apology after a train left the station 25 seconds earlier than its scheduled departure.
Another factor that makes Tokyo so livable is its relatively affordable housing, at least compared to other big cities like New York and Hong Kong. This is partly because of the city’s flexible land zoning system, which makes it relatively easy for developers to build housing and mix-use communities.
As our world becomes increasingly more urbanized, and cities around the world continue to increase in size, will they be able to emulate Tokyo’s growth? And if not, what other city design trends and innovations can cities utilize to raise quality of live?
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Which Countries are the Most Polarized?
This chart plots polarization for various countries based on the Edelman Trust Institute’s annual survey of 32,000+ people.
Which Countries are the Most Polarized?
How do you measure something that’s made headlines for half a decade but is still difficult to quantify? We’re talking about polarization.
How Do You Quantify Polarization?
Edelman’s data on which countries are the most polarized comes from survey results asking respondents two very simple questions:
- How divided is their country?
- How entrenched is the divide?
The questions help bring to light the social issues a particular country is facing and the lack of consensus on those issues.
Plotted against each other, a chart emerges. A country in the top–right corner of the chart is “severely polarized.” Countries located closer to the lower–left are considered less polarized.
In the report, Edelman identifies four metrics to watch for and measure which help quantify polarization.
|Economic Anxieties||Will my family be better off in five years?|
|Institutional Imbalance||Government is viewed as unethical and incompetent.|
|Class Divide||People with higher incomes have a higher trust in institutions.|
|Battle for Truth||Echo chambers, and a low trust in media.|
Following Edelman’s metrics, countries with economic uncertainty and inequality as well as institutional distrust are more likely to be polarized. Below, we look at key highlights from the chart.
Severely Polarized Countries
Despite being one of the largest economies in Latin America, Argentina is the most polarized country surveyed by a large margin. Foreign loan defaults, a high fiscal deficit, and now surging inflation have created a perfect storm in the country.
43% of the Argentinian respondents said they will be better off in five years, down 17 percentage points from last year.
Along with fiscal upheaval, Argentinians are also dealing with enduring corruption in the public sector and abrupt policy reversals between governments. Only 20% of those surveyed in Argentina said they trusted the government—the least of all surveyed countries.
Here are all six of the countries considered to be severely polarized:
🇺🇸 United States
🇿🇦 South Africa
In the U.S., heightened political upheaval between Democrats and Republicans over the last few years has led to strengthening ideological stances and to an abundance of headlines about polarization. Only 42% of respondents in the country trust the government.
And in South Africa, persistent inequality and falling trust in the African National Congress also check off Edelman’s metrics. It’s also second after Argentina with the least trust in government (22%) per the survey.
Moderately Polarized Countries
The biggest cluster of 15 countries are in moderately polarized section of the chart, with all continents represented.
🇰🇷 South Korea
🇬🇧 United Kingdom
Some are on the cusp of being severely polarized, including economic heavyweights like Japan, the UK, France, and Germany. On the other hand, smaller economies like Thailand, Kenya, and Nigeria, are doing comparatively better on the polarization chart.
Less Polarized Countries
Countries with fair economic outlook and high trust in institutions including China, Singapore, and India are in the bottom left sector of the chart.
🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
It’s interesting to note that of the seven countries in that sector, three are not democracies. That said, there are also more developing countries on this list as well, which could also be a factor.
Edelman notes that polarization is both “cause and consequence of distrust,” creating a self-fulfilling cycle. Aside from the four metrics stated above, concerns about the erosion of civility and weakening social fabric also lead to polarization.
As global events unfold in 2023—including looming worries of a recession—it will be fascinating to see how countries might switch positions in the year to come.
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