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Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

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The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.

A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.

Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?

Out of the Farms and Into the Cities

The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.

Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.

Global Urban Population vs Rural

Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.

The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots

Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.

Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.

global cities by size 1990 to 2030

Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.

It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.

Urbanization and its Complications

Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.

Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.

As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.

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Demographics

Animated Map: The Comparative Might of Continents

We’ve come a long way since Pangea. This short video examines the area, population, and GDP of our continents as a share of the world’s total.

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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

The World Population in 2100, by Country

New estimates show that world population may begin shrinking in coming years. We visualize this and how country populations will change by 2100.

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The World Population in 2100, by Country

In 2015, the United Nations predicted that the global population could surpass 11 billion by the end of the century.

Last year, the UN revised these estimates, but the numbers it came up with were still well above 10 billion. These regular projections from the UN have been the status quo—until now.

Plenty of signs have pointed to there being a population plateau, but recent research from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), published in The Lancet, suggests that the number of people on this planet may actually start to shrink well before the year 2100.

Here’s a closer look at these complex projections.

UN vs. IHME Population Estimates

According to the UN, the world population is set to steadily rise over the years:

  • 2030: 8.5 billion
  • 2050: 9.7 billion
  • 2100: 10.9 billion

In contrast, IHME paints a different picture. It projects the population to actually peak at 9.7 billion in 2064. Following this trajectory, there could be 8.8 billion people in 2100, approximately 2 billion fewer than previously thought.

Various demographic factors are behind these differences—higher life expectancies, migration rates, and lower fertility rates. For this last factor, independent drivers including contraceptive access and higher educational attainment were also considered.

A shifting age structure is also a key aspect of this transition. By 2100, over a quarter of the world or nearly 2.37 billion will be aged 65 years and above.

The Most Populous Countries in 2100

Amid all these demographic sea changes, which countries will come out on top?

Despite an overall decline in numbers to 1.09 billion people in 2100, India moves up from second to first place on the population leaderboard.

RankCountryPopulation (2017)RankCountryPopulation (2100E)
#1🇨🇳 China1.4B#1🇮🇳 India1.09B
#2🇮🇳 India1.38B#2🇳🇬 Nigeria791M
#3🇺🇸 U.S.325M#3🇨🇳 China732M
#4🇮🇩 Indonesia258M#4🇺🇸 U.S.336M
#5🇵🇰 Pakistan214M#5🇵🇰 Pakistan248M
#6🇧🇷 Brazil212M#6🇨🇩 DR Congo246M
#7🇳🇬 Nigeria206M#7🇮🇩 Indonesia229M
#8🇧🇩 Bangladesh157M#8🇪🇹 Ethiopia223M
#9🇷🇺 Russia146M#9🇪🇬 Egypt199M
#10🇯🇵 Japan128M#10🇹🇿 Tanzania186M

The populations of both India and China will begin to contract after the mid-century—and it’s predicted that China’s total population will drop by almost half to 732 million by 2100.

Led by Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that will continue to see growth by century’s end. In fact, four of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of population count will be located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Tightly Packed Together

One final thing to consider is how population density may look in 2100, with many more people clustered in the same areas. For example, Nigeria is dealing with a land area nearly 11 times smaller than the U.S.—but it will have more than double the population.

Country2100 Pop.Area (Millions, km²/mi²)Population Density per km² (mi²)
🇳🇬 Nigeria791M0.92M km² (0.36M mi²)856.3 (2217.7)
🇮🇳 India1.09B3.29M km² (1.27M mi²)331.6 (858.8)
🇵🇰 Pakistan248M0.88M km² (0.34M mi²)281.2 (728.3)
🇪🇹 Ethiopia223M1.10M km² (0.42M mi²)202.7 (531.0)
🇪🇬 Egypt199M1.01M km² (0.39M mi²)197.0 (510.1)
🇹🇿 Tanzania186M0.95M km² (0.37M mi²)196.3 (508.5)
🇮🇩 Indonesia229M1.90M km² (0.74M mi²)120.2 (311.4)
🇨🇩 DR Congo246M2.35M km² (0.91M mi²)104.9 (271.7)
🇨🇳 China732M9.60M km² (3.70M mi²)76.3 (197.8)
🇺🇸 U.S.336M9.83M km² (3.80M mi²)34.2 (88.5)

Regardless of how the future population count shakes out, it’s clear that these heavyweight countries will undergo significant transformation in the coming decades.

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