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Demographics

Mapped: Population Density With a Dot For Each Town

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There are many different ways to show population density on a map.

One method, for example, would be to color regions based on people per unit of land. This could be done at the county, state, or national levels with varying results. Alternatively, you could show density more abstractly, such as in this compelling map of the Pearl River Delta in China.

But one surprisingly insightful method for looking at population density is deceivingly simple: just put a dot on the map for every town with 1,000 people or more, and the results will give you a sense of where people live on a macro scale.

Replacing Towns With Dots

Using the dot methodology, it means New York City is the same size as Anytown, USA. This seems crazy, right?

Although this is surely a drawback, the results are still pretty interesting. After all, hubs like New York City are centers of commerce and culture, and they are surrounded by hundreds of other nearby towns.

Let’s take a look at (most of) North America:

North America population density with dots

A few things that are noticeable right away?

You can see the difference in topography between the plains and the more mountainous part of the continent. In flatter places like Nebraska or Saskatchewan, the towns are evenly spread out – and in regions with uneven geography, such as Colorado or British Columbia, towns are typically located in the valleys.

Further, the density in the Northeastern part of the United States and surrounding the Great Lakes work to provide quite a contrast to the emptier parts of the continent.

Natural features like the Everglades are also quite easy to spot on the map – it’s one of the only non-populated areas in an otherwise dense Florida. If you look at the northwestern tip of Wyoming, you’ll also see a lack of dots in the 2 million acres of Yellowstone National Park.

Europe and MENA

Now let’s go across the Atlantic – here’s a map of Europe, North Africa, and most of the Middle East.

(Click to open a larger version)

This map is also pretty spectacular – you can see the cities along the Nile, the “eye” of Moscow, and impressive amounts of population density in places like Belgium, Holland, Germany and Switzerland.

World View

While we haven’t seen a world map using this method, it’s not hard to imagine what places like India, China, Japan, or Bangladesh could look like with dots replacing each town within their borders.

These are the densest parts of the world – to even more extreme levels than the denser parts of Europe shown above.

Here’s a more standard population density map, using people per square kilometer, to give you an idea:

World Population Density

If you’re looking for more perspective on global population density, this unique map is worth a look. It shows how dense the aforementioned Asian region above is in a very compelling and simple way.

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Demographics

Mapped: The World Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

This simple map visualization will change how you think about global population, and how people are distributed throughout the planet.

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World Map: Divided Into 4 Regions With Equal Populations

View the full-size version of the infographic by clicking here

At the most basic level, a standard world map tells us almost nothing about human population.

While the borders on a map may give us an idea of political boundaries or even aspects of continental geography, in reality they have little to do with showing population density.

That said, it is possible to apply one simple alteration to the world map so that we can make it more interesting from a population perspective – and it turns out that doing so can help us gain insight on where regional population density is the greatest.

Splitting Up the Map

Today’s map comes from Reddit user /u/OrneryThroat and it breaks up the world by grouping countries into four equally populated regions.

While both simple and crude, this mechanism does have some profound results:

RegionPopulation
North America, South America, and West/Central Africa1.9 billion
Europe, East Africa, Middle East, and Northern Asia1.9 billion
South Asia1.9 billion
Most of Southeast Asia, China, and Oceania1.9 billion

More specifically, there is one area that stands out from a visual standpoint, and it resides clearly in the southern portion of Asia.

Home to 1.34 billion people, it’s well-known that India already holds roughly 20% of the global population – but add Pakistan (195 million) and Bangladesh (165 million) into the mix, and you’re already closing in on one quarter of the global total.

Meanwhile, to get to a similar number, you’d need to add the entire populations of North America, South America, Europe, and Oceania together to even come close.

Shown Another Way

While splitting it into four equal portions is one way to transform the world map, here is another geometric route to conveying a similar idea about the world’s population density:

Circle population

On a previous Chart of the Week, we showed that 22 of the world’s 37 megacities are located in the small circle above, putting into perspective the region’s population density in a similar but different way.

These simple transformations of the world map are not only memorable, but they also give our brain an easy heuristic to better understand the planet we live on.

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Demographics

The World Population Pyramid (1950-2100)

The world is in the midst of a notable demographic transition. Here’s how the world population pyramid will change as we close in on the year 2100.

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The world is in the midst of a notable period of demographic transition.

Back in the 1960s, global population growth peaked at a 2.1% annual rate, but since then it has been on a historic downtrend.

In fact, according to the most commonly cited United Nations projection, which is based on a medium fertility rate scenario, it’s expected that annual population growth could drop all the way to 0.1% by the end of the 21st century.

Visualizing a Demographic Transition

Today’s powerful charts come from Our World in Data by economist Max Roser, and they show how global demographics will shift over the next 80 years.

Below you can see one major catalyst of this change, which is the peaking (and then falling) population growth rate:

Growth in world population from 1950 to 2100

Why has population growth been dropping since the 1960s?

A variety of explanations factor into this, including:

  • Falling fertility rates:
    Birth rates tend to fall as nations get richer. First, this happened in the developed world, but as the century progresses this phenomenon will impact more and more developing nations.
  • Government policy:
    China’s “One Child Policy” in particular had an effect on global population growth, and the aftermath of the policy is still contributing to a shrinking Chinese population over the long term.
  • Rural flight
    Urban dwellers tend to have fewer babies – and by 2050, there will be an additional 2.5 billion people living in cities globally.

Fewer births combined with improving healthcare – especially in developing nations – will dramatically alter the composition of the world population pyramid, creating both economic opportunities and challenges in the process.

The Changing World Population Pyramid

The following graphic charts how these changes affect the makeup of the world’s population.

World Population Pyramid transition

Over time, the shape of the world population pyramid is expected to shift from Stage 1 (high birth rates, high death rates) to something closer to Stage 4 (low birth rates, low death rates).

As the population distribution skews older, here is how population size and global median age will change:

YearGlobal Population SizeMedian Age
19502.6 billion23.6 years
20187.6 billion30.0 years
20509.7 billion36.1 years
207510.7 billion39.0 years
210011.2 billion41.6 years

Dates past 2018 are projections by the United Nations

Global median age is projected to surpass 40 years by the end of the century, and it will be considerably higher in many Western nations, especially in Japan and Europe.

With the future demographic composition looking very different than today, it will be fascinating to see how the economy responds to these potential tailwinds. Further, it will be even more interesting to see what role automation will play as the old-age dependency ratio hits historic highs.

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