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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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Demographics

Ranked: The Most Populous Cities in the World

Where are the world’s largest cities in terms of population? This graphic looks at the top 20 most populous cities in the world.

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most populous cities

Ranked: The Most Populous Cities in the World

More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities—and as time goes on, it’s clear that more urban dwellers will find themselves living in megacities.

Megacities are defined as urban areas with a population of more than 10 million people. This means that the world’s top 20 most populous cities are all megacities.

This visualization, using data from Macrotrends, shows the 20 most populous cities in the world.

Rapid Urbanization

Today, more than 80% of people in higher income countries find themselves living in urban areas, and in upper-middle income countries the number lies between 50-80%.

Rural-to-urban migration is an increasingly relevant trend in the 21st century. Prospects of better job opportunities and higher wages, along with shifts from agrarian to industrial and service-based economies, are causing mass movement to cities.

How much have the world’s five most populous cities grown in just the last decade?

RankCity 2010 Population 2020 Population Percentage Change
#1🇯🇵 Tokyo36,834,00037,393,000+1.5%
#2🇮🇳 Delhi21,935,00030,291,000+38.1%
#3🇨🇳 Shanghai19,980,00027,058,000+35.4%
#4🇧🇷 São Paulo19,660,00022,043,000+12.1%
#5🇲🇽 Mexico City 20,132,00021,782,000+8.2%

While Tokyo only gained 559,000 people between 2010 and 2020, Delhi gained over 8 million people in the same time frame.

Shanghai grew by over 7 million people. Meanwhile, São Paulo grew by more than 2 million, and Mexico City gained just over 1.6 million people.

Interestingly, Mexico City placed third on the top largest cities list in 2010, but has since experienced slower growth compared to its competitors, Shanghai and São Paulo.

The Most Populous Cities Today

While Tokyo is the world’s most populous city with 37,393,000 people, this number is leveling out due to declining birth rates and an aging population.

Indian and Chinese cities, on the other hand, will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years. In fact, it’s expected that Delhi’s population could surpass Tokyo’s by 2028.

Here’s a closer look at the top 20 most populous cities.

RankCityPopulation
1🇯🇵 Tokyo37,393,000
2🇮🇳 Delhi30,291,000
3🇨🇳 Shanghai27,058,000
4🇧🇷 São Paulo22,043,000
5🇲🇽 Mexico City21,782,000
6🇧🇩 Dhaka21,006,000
7🇪🇬 Cairo20,901,000
8🇨🇳 Beijing20,463,000
9🇮🇳 Mumbai20,411,000
10🇯🇵 Osaka19,165,000
11🇺🇸 New York City18,804,000
12🇵🇰 Karachi16,094,000
13🇨🇳 Chongqing15,872,000
14🇹🇷 Istanbul15,190,000
15🇦🇷 Buenos Aires15,154,000
16🇮🇳 Calcutta14,850,000
17🇳🇬 Lagos14,368,000
18🇨🇩 Kinshasa14,342,000
19🇵🇭 Manila13,923,000
20🇨🇳 Tianjin13,580,000

By 2035, two new cities are expected to crack the top 20 list. Specifically, it’s projected that Bangalore (India) and Lahore (Pakistan) will boot out Tianjin and Buenos Aires. In addition, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chennai are all expected to meet the megacity definition by 2035.

Urban growth will continue mainly in Asia and Africa, as some cities in regions such as Europe actually begin to shrink in population due to aging citizens and declining birth rates. Since 2012, deaths in the EU have actually been outpacing births—and in 2019, there were 4.7 million deaths compared to 4.2 million births, though net migration kept population numbers from falling.

Life in the City

While there are certainly downsides to mass urbanization, like pollution and overcrowding, the upsides clearly outweigh the negatives for most people. Convenience, better jobs, easier access to social services, and higher wages are among the many reasons people are likely to continue to move to cities, even in the post-COVID era.

With the emergence of smart and green cities, the quality of life for many urban dwellers will likely continue to improve, and more large urban areas will morph into megacities.

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Misc

Visualizing the U.S. Population by Race

America is a cultural mosaic—nearly 40% identify as a visible minority today. Here we break down the U.S. population by race by state.

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US population by race

Visualizing the U.S. Population by Race

The American population is a unique mosaic of cultures—and almost 40% of people identify as racial or ethnic minorities today.

In this treemap, we use data for 2019 from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which bases its analysis on the latest American Community Survey (ACS) data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Then we break down the same data on a state-by-state basis.

Growing Diversity in America

As of 2019, here is the current distribution of the U.S. population by race and ethnicity:

  • White: 60.1% (Non-Hispanic)
  • Hispanic: 18.5%
  • Black: 12.2%
  • Asian: 5.6%
  • Multiple Races: 2.8%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native: 0.7%
  • Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 0.2%

Note that the U.S. totals do not include Puerto Rico.

However, these race and ethnicity projections are expected to change over the coming years. By the year 2060, it’s expected that the distribution of Non-Hispanic Whites as a percentage of total population will fall from 60.1% to 44.3% of Americans.

YearWhite*BlackHispanicAsianMultiple RacesOther**
202059.7%12.5%18.7%5.8%2.3%0.9%
202557.7%12.7%19.9%6.3%2.6%0.9%
203055.8%12.8%21.1%6.7%2.8%0.9%
203553.8%12.9%22.3%7.1%3.1%0.9%
204051.7%13.0%23.5%7.5%3.4%0.9%
204549.7%13.1%24.6%7.9%3.8%0.9%
205047.8%13.3%25.7%8.2%4.1%0.9%
205546.0%13.4%26.6%8.5%4.5%0.9%
206044.3%13.6%27.5%8.9%4.9%0.9%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. *Excludes Hispanics **Other includes American Indian/Alaska Native (0.7%) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (0.2%). Both proportions remain unchanged in these projections.

Interestingly, the proportion of those from multiple racial and ethnic backgrounds will more than double, from 2.3% to 4.9% alongside rising patterns of interracial marriage.

Over time, the U.S. Census has been vastly expanded to reflect the true diversity that the country holds. In fact, it was only from 1960 onwards that people could select their own race—and only from 2020 can those who chose White or Black provide further information on their roots.

A State-by-State Breakdown

Of course, racial diversity in the United States differs widely from region to region.

In the Northeast—particularly the states Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire—the Non-Hispanic White population accounts for 90% or more of the total. In contrast, Black populations are highest in the District of Columbia (45%) and several Southern states.

LocationWhiteBlackHispanicAsianMultiple RacesAmerican Indian
/Alaska Native
Native Hawaiian
/Other Pacific Islander
Alabama65%27%4%1%2%0%-
Alaska60%2%7%6%8%15%2%
Arizona54%4%32%3%2%4%0%
Arkansas72%15%8%2%2%1%0%
California36%5%40%15%3%0%0%
Colorado68%4%22%3%3%1%0%
Connecticut66%10%17%5%3%0%-
Delaware61%22%10%4%3%0%-
District of Columbia37%45%11%4%3%0%-
Florida53%15%27%3%2%0%0%
Georgia52%31%10%4%3%0%0%
Hawaii20%1%10%39%18%0%10%
Idaho82%1%13%1%3%1%-
Illinois61%14%18%6%2%0%<.01
Indiana79%9%7%2%2%0%-
Iowa85%4%6%2%2%0%<.01
Kansas76%6%12%3%3%1%-
Kentucky85%8%4%2%2%0%-
Louisiana59%32%5%2%2%1%-
Maine93%1%2%1%2%1%-
Maryland50%30%11%6%3%0%-
Massachusetts71%7%12%7%3%0%<.01
Michigan75%13%5%3%3%1%-
Minnesota79%6%6%5%3%1%-
Mississippi57%38%3%1%1%0%-
Missouri79%11%4%2%3%0%0%
Montana86%1%4%1%3%6%-
Nebraska79%5%11%2%2%1%-
Nevada48%9%29%9%4%1%1%
New Hampshire90%1%4%3%2%--
New Jersey55%12%21%10%2%0%-
New Mexico37%2%50%2%2%9%-
New York55%14%19%9%3%0%-
North Carolina63%21%10%3%3%1%<.01
North Dakota84%2%4%1%3%5%-
Ohio79%12%4%2%3%0%-
Oklahoma65%7%11%2%7%8%0%
Oregon75%2%13%5%4%1%0%
Pennsylvania76%10%8%4%2%0%<.01
Puerto Rico1%0%98%-0%--
Rhode Island71%6%17%3%3%0%-
South Carolina64%26%6%2%2%0%-
South Dakota82%2%4%1%2%8%-
Tennessee74%16%6%2%2%0%-
Texas41%12%40%5%2%0%0%
Utah78%1%14%2%3%1%1%
Vermont93%1%2%2%2%1%-
Virginia61%19%10%7%3%0%<.01
Washington68%4%13%9%5%1%1%
West Virginia93%3%1%1%2%0%-
Wisconsin81%6%7%3%2%1%-
Wyoming84%1%10%1%2%2%-
U.S.60.1%12.2%18.5%5.6%2.8%0.7%0.2%

Note: A dash (-) indicates estimates with relative standard errors greater than 30%, which were not included in the data

Of all the 50 states, Hawaii is home to the largest share of Asian populations at 39%. It also has one of the most diverse racial breakdowns in the nation overall, including the highest proportion of mixed race individuals.

Looking to another island, an overwhelming majority (98%) of Puerto Ricans are of Hispanic origins. While it’s not a state, its inhabitants are all considered U.S. citizens.

Charting the U.S. population by race is crucial for a number of reasons. This information can be used to better understand existing income and wealth gaps, track public health outcomes, and to aid in policy decision-making at higher levels.

We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.

—Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the U.S.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to better reflect U.S. Census Bureau categories.

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