Ranked: The 20 Most Populous Cities in the World
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Ranked: The Most Populous Cities in the World

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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🇮🇳 Kolkata14,850,000
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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Demographics

Charted: The Working Hours of Americans at Different Income Levels

This graphic shows the average working hours between higher and lower-income groups in America, based on income percentile.

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Average working hours in America

The Actual Working Hours of Different Income Levels

Do you really need to work 100-hour weeks for success?

In 2021, America’s top 10% of income earners made at least $129,181 a year—more than double the average individual income across the country.

When looking at differences between income groups, there are many preconceived notions about the work involved. But what are the actual average working hours for different income groups?

This graphic by Ruben Berge Mathisen uses the latest U.S. Census data to show the average working hours of Americans at different income levels.

Comparing Average Work Weeks

The data used for this graphic comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s May 2022 Current Population Survey, which surveys more than 8,000 Americans from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Importantly, the data reflects the average work hours that respondents in each income percentile “actually” work each week, and not what’s on their contract. This also includes overtime, other jobs, or side gigs.

According to the survey data, America’s top 10% income percentile works 4.4 hours more each week than those in the bottom 10%. And in surveys across other countries, though with hundreds of respondents instead of thousands, the discrepancy was similar:

While both income and wealth gaps are generally widening globally, it’s interesting to see that higher earners aren’t necessarily working more hours to achieve their increasingly larger salaries.

In fact, the top 10% in the 27 countries shown in the graphic are actually working around 1 hour less each week than the bottom 10%, at least among full-time workers.

Zooming Out: Average Working Hours per Country

Similarities arise when comparing average working hours across different countries. For starters, people living in poorer countries typically work longer hours.

According to Our World in Data, the average worker in Cambodia works about 9.4 hours a day, while in Switzerland, people work an average of 6 hours a day.

While many factors contribute to this discrepancy in working hours, one large factor cited is tech innovation, or things like physical machines, processes, and systems that make work more efficient and productive. This allows wealthier countries (and industries) to increase their output without putting in as many hours.

For example, from 1948 to 2011, farm production per hour in the U.S. became 16x more productive, thanks to innovations like improved machinery, better fertilizers, and more efficient land management systems.

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Demographics

Visualizing The European Union’s Aging Population by 2100

The EU’s population is aging rapidly. By 2100, more than 30% of the region’s population is expected to be 65 or older.

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EUs population by 2100

The EU’s Population by 2100

View a higher resolution version of this map.

Many countries and regions are expected to see rapidly aging demographics, and the EU is a notable example. By the end of the century, more than 30% of the region’s population is expected to be 65 or older.

This graphic by Gilbert Fontana uses data from Eurostat to show how the EU’s population is projected to change by 2100. In the article below, we explain how this shift could have a dire impact on the region’s economic growth.

Dependency Ratio from 2021 to 2100

The graphic highlights the old-age dependency ratio, which measures the ratio of people 65 and above, and generally retired or needing supplemental income, compared to the number of people that are working age (15-64).

In 2021, the EU’s dependency ratio was 32. This meant that for every 100 working-age people, there were 32 elderly people. By 2100, this ratio is expected to increase to 57.

But what’s the real-life impact of this?

The Impact of the EU’s Aging Population

Typically, the retirement age population is not working and relies on pensions to support themselves financially. Therefore, the bigger the elderly population, the more pressure put on a country’s social safety net.

AgeEU Population (2021)EU Population (2100)% Change
<1-1048,495,07542,216,181-12.9%
11-2046,931,54340,137,280-14.5%
21-3050,884,15043,247,514-15.0%
31-4058,431,63845,628,731-21.9%
41-5062,846,62347,136,614-25.0%
51-6063,798,23048,320,559-24.3%
61-7054,466,48447,430,312-12.9%
71-8038,414,11145,671,19218.9%
81-9020,326,43139,411,66293.9%
91-100+3,658,15416,874,396361.3%

As the population ages, taxes may rise to help cover those inflating costs. And a decrease in a region’s working-age population can also have a significant impact on innovation and experience in the overall workforce.

For example, Japan’s population is also aging rapidly. According to the IMF, this could slow down the country’s annual GDP growth by 1 percentage point in the next 30 years.

Main Causes of An Aging Population

Japan and the EU aren’t the only places in the world that are seeing their population get older—the entire global population is aging.

According to the World Health Organization, one in six people worldwide will be 60 years old or older by 2030. This is happening for two main reasons:

To help mitigate the risks that come from aging populations, governments need to ensure their pension systems are adequate and adjusted to account for increasing life expectancies and growing elderly populations.

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