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Demographics

Mapping the World’s Urban Population in 2050

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Click on any part of the map to see individual country breakdowns.

Mapping the World’s Urban Population from 1500 – 2050

In 133 BC, Rome was the first city to hit a population of one million people.
While that number might seem small now, the truth is that modern megacities are just a blip in the long timeline of human history.
Today’s interactive data visualization from Our World in Data maps out how many people have lived in urban areas over time, as well as the powerful economic pull of cities after the Industrial Revolution.

Shifting Human Geography

The stages of urbanization can be roughly broken into two parts.
1500s – 1900s
Most people lived an agrarian life until the first Industrial Revolution. The urban population quadrupled over this lengthy timeframe, from 4.1% to 16.4%.
Urbanization accompanied the moves away from agricultural employment, but it was still a slow burn until the 20th century.
1900s – Present
The expansion of the global economy and population saw urbanization skyrocket along with it. The urban public leaped from 16% to 55% today, a trend which comes from both births within urban areas and rising human migration out of rural areas.
This turning point between the centuries becomes pretty clear when we look at the population shifts relative to each other:

What Defines An Urban Area?

While this widely cited data comes from the United Nations, many researchers suggest that the actual numbers are much more dramatic.
Why is there a discrepancy? It turns out that the definition of an urban population varies widely around the world. The UN figures are based on nationally-defined urban shares – but the thresholds and metrics used to calculate these are not uniform. Here are just a few examples:

CountryDefinition
ArgentinaLocalities with 2,000 inhabitants or more.
AustraliaSignificant Urban Centres representing concentrations of urban development with 10,000 inhabitants or more.
BelgiumCommunes with 5,000 inhabitants or more.
CanadaAreas with 1,000 inhabitants or more and at least 400 inhabitants per square kilometre.
IcelandLocalities with 200 inhabitants or more.
JapanCities defined as shi (A municipality that is 50,000 inhabitants or more); 60 per cent or more of the population engaged in urban type of business.
NetherlandsIn the present publication, municipalities with 20,000 inhabitants or more.
SingaporeEntire population.
United States of AmericaTerritory that meets minimum population density requirements and with 2,500 inhabitants or more.

Cities That Never Sleep

In 1950, two-thirds of the global population lived in rural areas, but this distribution will be reversed in a matter of decades. Almost 70% of the world will live in urban areas by 2050.
In total, 2.5 billion people could be added to global urban areas by 2050, and a whopping 90% of this increase will take place in Asia and Africa.
By the time the dust has settled, large portions of the urban population will be concentrated in megacities, which are areas defined as having 10 million or more inhabitants. These are projected to be the top 10 megacities by the middle of the 21st century:

CityCountry2010 Population (millions)2050 Population (millions)
MumbaiIndia20.142.4
DelhiIndia1736.2
DhakaBangladesh14.835.2
KinshasaDR Congo935
KolkataIndia15.633
LagosNigeria10.632.6
TokyoJapan36.132.6
KarachiPakistan1331.7
New YorkU.S.19.424.8
Mexico CityMexico20.124.3

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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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