The World’s Most Populous Countries (1973–2023)
Humankind is now double the size it was in 1973.
Of course, that growth has been far from uniform, and the ranking of the world’s most populous countries continues to evolve.
The Top 10 Most Populous Countries
Here are the countries shown above, including how much they’ve grown over the past 50 years:
|Country||Population (1973)||Population (2023)||Change (1973–2023)|
|🇺🇸 United States||207,314,772||339,996,567||132,681,795|
The numbers above highlight the extreme variance in growth for these world’s most populous countries. While Germany has grown by just 6% over the past 50 years, Pakistan and Nigeria have nearly quadrupled their populations.
Half a century ago, there were only six countries with populations of over 100 million. Today, there are 15 countries past that mark, with Vietnam positioned to hit that milestone next.
The Top 20 Most Populous Countries
Things get even more interesting when we examine the top 20 most populous countries over the same time period.
|Country||Population (1973)||Rank (1973)||Population (2023)||Rank (2023)|
|🇺🇸 United States||207,314,772||3||339,996,567||3|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||56,166,630||12||67,736,798||21|
Looking back 50 years ago, Nigeria was the lone African nation in the top 20. Today, it is joined by Ethiopia, Egypt, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – all of which have experienced staggering population growth.
African nations are expected to lead population growth over the next few decades. By 2100, one quarter of the world’s people are expected to be African.
Europe is the flip side of this equation. Back in 1973, there were six European countries in this top list. Today, only Russia and Germany remain, with the latter country soon to fall out of the top 20 ranking.
Ukraine, which was shrinking, is expected to fall to at least 41st place due to the turmoil surrounding the Russian invasion of the country. Since the invasion began in February 2022, nearly 14 million border crossings have been recorded from Ukraine to other countries.
How Big Will Populations Get?
Once India becomes the world’s largest country, it will likely remain so for many decades in the future, peaking in the 2060s (unless there are substantial changes in projected growth rates). India’s peak population will stand at around 1.7 billion people.
The world’s population is expected to peak later, around the 2080s. Humanity’s peak population is expected to be about 10.5 billon.
Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries
These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.
As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.
In the last 100 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.
This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.
France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs
Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.
France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.
Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.
Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.
That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).
Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast
In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.
Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.
The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.
Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.
However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.
Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes
Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.
Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.
Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.
In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.
Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.
According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.
By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.
It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.
As Teo puts it:
“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”
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