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Demographics

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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Chart of the Week

Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government

At the start of the 19th century, less than 1% of humanity lived under democratic rule. See how systems of government have changed over the last 200 years.

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Visualizing 200 Years of Systems of Government

Centuries ago, most of our ancestors were living under a different political paradigm.

Although democracy was starting to show signs of growth in some parts of the world, it was more of an idea, rather than an established or accepted system of government.

Even at the start of the 19th century, for example, it’s estimated that the vast majority of the global population — roughly 84% of all people — still lived under in autocratic regimes or colonies that lacked the authority to self-govern their own affairs.

The Evolution of Rule

Today’s set of charts look at global governance, and how it’s evolved over the last two centuries of human history.

Leveraging data from the widely-used Polity IV data set on political regimes, as well as the work done by economist Max Roser through Our World in Data, we’ve plotted an empirical view of how people are governed.

Specifically, our charts break down the global population by how they are governed (in absolute terms), as well as by the relative share of population living under those same systems of government (percentage terms).

Classifying Systems of Government

The Polity IV data series defines a state’s level of democracy by ranking it on several metrics, such as competitive and open elections, political participation, and checks on authority.

Polity scores are on a -10 to +10 scale, where the lower end (-10 to -6) corresponds with autocracies and the upper end (+6 to +10) corresponds to democracies. Below are five types of government that can be derived from the scale, and that are shown in the visualization.

  1. Colony
    A territory under the political control of another country, and/or occupied by settlers from that country.
    Examples: 🇬🇮 Gibraltar, 🇬🇺 Guam, 🇵🇫 French Polynesia
  2. Autocracy
    A single person (the autocrat) possesses supreme and absolute power.
    Examples: 🇨🇳 China, 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia, 🇰🇵 North Korea
  3. Closed Anocracy
    An anocracy is loosely defined as a regime that mixes democratic and autocratic features. In a closed anocracy, political competitors are drawn only from an elite and well-connected pool.
    Examples: 🇹🇭 Thailand, 🇲🇦 Morocco, 🇸🇬 Singapore
  4. Open Anocracy
    Similar to a closed anocracy, an open anocracy draws political competitors from beyond elite groups.
    Examples: 🇷🇺 Russia, 🇲🇾 Malaysia, 🇧🇩 Bangladesh
  5. Democracy
    Citizens exercise power by voting for their leaders in elections.
    Examples: 🇺🇸 United States, 🇩🇪 Germany, 🇮🇳 India

A Long-Term Trend in Question

In the early 19th century, less than 1% of the global population could be found in democracies.

In more recent decades, however, the dominoes have fallen ⁠— and today, it’s estimated that 56% of the world population lives in societies that can be considered democratic, at least according to the Polity IV data series highlighted above.

While there are questions regarding a recent decline in freedom around the world, it’s worth considering that democratic governance is still a relatively new tradition within a much broader historical context.

Will the long-term trend of democracy prevail, or are the more recent indications of populism a sign of reversion?

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Demographics

Visualizing Over A Century of Global Fertility

Global fertility has almost halved in the past century. Which countries are most resilient, and which have experienced the most dramatic changes over time?

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Visualizing Over A Century of World Fertility

In just 50 years, world fertility rates have been cut in half.

This sea change can be attributed to multiple factors, ranging from medical advances to greater gender equity. But generally speaking, as more women gain an education and enter the workforce, they’re delaying motherhood and often having fewer children in the process.

Today’s interactive data visualization was put together by Bo McCready, the Director of Analytics at KIPP Texas. Using numbers from Our World in Data, it depicts the changes in the world’s fertility rate—the average number of children per woman—spanning from the beginning of the 20th century to present day.

A Demographic Decline

The global fertility rate fell from 5.25 children per woman in 1900, to 2.44 children per woman in 2018. The steepest drop in this shift happened in a single decade, from 1970 to 1980.

In the interactive graphic, you’ll see graphs for 200 different countries and political entities showing their total fertility rate (FTR) over time. Here’s a quick summary of the countries with the highest and lowest FTRs, as of 2017:

Top 10 CountriesFertility rateBottom 10 CountriesFertility Rate
🇳🇪 Niger7.13🇹🇼 Taiwan1.22
🇸🇴 Somalia6.08🇲🇩 Moldova1.23
🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of Congo5.92🇵🇹 Portugal1.24
🇲🇱 Mali5.88🇸🇬 Singapore1.26
🇹🇩 Chad5.75🇵🇱 Poland1.29
🇦🇴 Angola5.55🇬🇷 Greece1.3
🇧🇮 Burundi5.53🇰🇷 South Korea1.33
🇺🇬 Uganda5.41🇭🇰 Hong Kong1.34
🇳🇬 Nigeria5.39🇨🇾 Cyprus1.34
🇬🇲 Gambia5.29🇲🇴 Macao1.36

At a glance, the countries with the highest fertility are all located in Africa, while several Asian countries end up in the lowest fertility list.

The notable decade of decline in average global fertility can be partially traced back to the actions of the demographic giants China and India. In the 1970s, China’s controversial “one child only” policy and India’s state-led sterilization campaigns caused sharp declines in births for both countries. Though they hold over a quarter of the world’s population today, the effects of these government decisions are still being felt.

Population Plateau, or Cliff?

The overall decline in fertility rates isn’t expected to end anytime soon, and it’s even expected to fall past 2.1 children per woman, which is known as the “replacement rate”. Any fertility below this rate signals fewer new babies than parents, leading to an eventual population decline.

Experts predict that world fertility will further drop from 2.5 to 1.9 children per woman by 2100. This means that global population growth will slow down or possibly even go negative.

Africa will continue to be the only region with significant growth—consistent with the generous fertility rates of Nigeria, the DRC, and Angola. In fact, the continent is expected to house 13 of the world’s largest megacities, as its population expands from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion by 2100.

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