Visualizing the Most Populous Countries in the World
India’s population is projected to surpass China’s as soon as 2022.
While this is consequential on a global economic level, it also leaves other population trends overlooked. For instance, Nigeria is projected to have more people than the U.S., the world’s third-largest country by population, by the year 2050.
This treemap visualization, adapted from PopulationPyramid.net, is an overview of the global population in 2020, showing us the world’s most populous countries.
The 50 Most Populous Countries
China, with a population of 1.44 billion, is the most populous country worldwide.
In 2019, over 60% of its population resided in urban centers, a trend that has seen the portion of city dwellers double over the last 25 years. For context, 83% of the U.S. population lives in cities, while just 35% of India’s population dwells in urban areas.
Together, China and India’s populations make up over 36% of the global total.
|9||🇷🇺 Russian Federation||145,934,460|
|16||🇨🇩 D.R. Congo||89,561,404|
|21||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||67,886,004|
|25||🇿🇦 South Africa||59,308,690|
|28||🇰🇷 Republic of Korea||51,269,183|
|41||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||34,813,867|
Extending over 17,000 islands, Indonesia comes fourth among the world’s most populous countries, standing at 273.5 million people.
Pakistan comes in fifth, with 220.8 million. Karachi, located on the southeastern coast of Pakistan, is home to over 16 million people alone. It is Pakistan’s most populous city, and the seventh-largest city in the world.
Nigeria also makes it onto the list. In just three decades, the country’s population is projected to climb from 206 million to 400 million—growing at a percentage clip that is more than double that of India.
The 50 Least Populous Countries
Combined, the 50 least-populous countries make up under 0.4% of the total world population. By contrast, the top 50 account for 87% of the total.
Unsurprisingly, the world’s low population nations are situated on small islands, often tropical and reliant on tourism.
|1||🇻🇦 Vatican City||799|
|4||🇫🇰 Falkland Islands||3,377|
|6||🇵🇲 Saint Pierre and Miquelon||5,822|
|7||🇸🇭 Saint Helena||6,059|
|9||🇼🇫 Wallis and Futuna||11,432|
|12||🇨🇰 Cook Islands||17,548|
|14||🇧🇶 Caribbean Netherlands||25,979|
|15||🇻🇬 British Virgin Islands||30,030|
|17||🇸🇲 San Marino||33,860|
|19||🇹🇨 Turks and Caicos Islands||38,191|
|21||🇸🇽 Sint Maarten||42,388|
|22||🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||48,678|
|23||🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and Nevis||52,823|
|24||🇦🇸 American Samoa||55,312|
|25||🇲🇵 Northern Mariana Islands||56,188|
|27||🇲🇭 Marshall Islands||58,791|
|29||🇰🇾 Cayman Islands||64,948|
|32||🇮🇲 Isle of Man||84,584|
|33||🇦🇬 Antigua and Barbuda||97,118|
|35||🇻🇮 United States Virgin Islands||104,578|
|37||🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||110,589|
|40||🇫🇲 Micronesia (Fed. States of)||113,815|
|45||🇱🇨 Saint Lucia||182,790|
|47||🇸🇹 São Tomé and Príncipe||215,056|
|49||🇵🇫 French Polynesia||279,287|
|50||🇬🇫 French Guiana||282,731|
*Source: United Nations, as of July 1, 2019. Includes territories.
With a total of 799 residents in 2019, Vatican City is the least populated country. Following close behind is the territory of Tokelau, a cluster of islands situated between New Zealand and Hawaii.
The Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is also among the smallest populations in the world, with just 97,118 inhabitants. While it may be small in terms of total inhabitants, its population density is another story—with over 222 people per square kilometer. That is roughly 50% higher than China, but about half the population density of India.
Meanwhile, the 33 pacific islands of Kiribati also make the top 50 list of the least populous countries worldwide. With a population of 117,606, Kiribati was a testing site for atomic bombs by the British and Americans during the 1960s. The island reached independence in 1979, after being under crown colonial rule since 1916.
Regional Median Ages
How about the median ages across these populations?
By far, the African region has the lowest median age at 19.8 years old, partially driven by a high birth rate of 4.7 children per woman. In contrast, the global average falls around 2.5 children.
By 2050, Africa’s population will effectively double from 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion.
|Region||Annual Rate of Natural Population Increase||Median Age (2020)|
|Central America||1.2%||28.3 years|
|Latin America & Caribbean||0.9%||30.9 years|
|Northern America||0.3%||38.6 years|
|South America||0.9%||32.0 years|
Source: Our World in Data
On the other hand, Europe is the oldest, at 42.7 years for this demographic metric.
With a median age of 47.9, Italy has the second-oldest population in the world, topped only by Japan. Meanwhile, Germany (46.6), Portugal (46.2), and Spain (45.5) fall next in line. If current trends continue, by 2050, half of Europe’s population will be non-working and over the age of 65.
That said, it should be noted that this trend is not exclusive to Europe. In 30 years, 1.5 billion people globally will be over the age of 65, amounting to 16% of the global population.
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News Explainer: The Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic crisis with over $50 billion in debt and consumer inflation at 39%. So how did they get here?
Explained: the Economic Crisis in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is currently in an economic and political crisis of mass proportions, recently culminating in a default on its debt payments. The country is also nearly at empty on their foreign currency reserves, decreasing the ability to purchase imports and driving up domestic prices for goods.
There are several reasons for this crisis and the economic turmoil has sparked mass protests and violence across the country. This visual breaks down some of the elements that led to Sri Lanka’s current situation.
A Timeline of Events
The ongoing problems in Sri Lanka have bubbled up after years of economic mismanagement. Here’s a brief timeline looking at just some of the recent factors.
In 2009, a decades-long civil war in the country ended and the government’s focus turned inward towards domestic production. However, a stress on local production and sales, instead of exports, increased the reliance on foreign goods.
Unprompted cuts were introduced on income tax in 2019, leading to significant losses in government revenue, draining an already cash-strapped country.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the world causing border closures globally and stifling one of Sri Lanka’s most lucrative industries. Prior to the pandemic, in 2018, tourism contributed nearly 5% of the country’s GDP and generated over 388,000 jobs. In 2020, tourism’s share of GDP had dropped to 0.8%, with over 40,000 jobs lost to that point.
Recently, the Sri Lankan government introduced a ban on foreign-made chemical fertilizers. The ban was meant to counter the depletion of the country’s foreign currency reserves.
However, with only local, organic fertilizers available to farmers, a massive crop failure occurred and Sri Lankans were subsequently forced to rely even more heavily on imports, further depleting reserves.
In early April this year, massive protests calling for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, sparked in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.
In May, pro-government supporters brutally attacked protesters. Subsequently, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, brother of President Rajapaksa, stepped down and was replaced with former PM, Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Recently, the government approved a four-day work week to allow citizens an extra day to grow food, as prices continue to shoot up. Food inflation increased over 57% in May.
Additionally, the increasing prices on grain caused by the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices globally have played into an already dire situation in Sri Lanka.
The Key Information
“Our economy has completely collapsed.”
Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament last week.
One of the main causes of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka is the reliance on imports and the amount spent on them. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
- 2021 total imports = $20.6 billion USD
- 2022 total imports (to March) = $5.7 billion USD
In contrast, the most recent reported foreign currency reserve levels in the country were at an abysmal $50 million, having plummeted an astounding 99%, from $7.6 billion in 2019.
Some of the top imports in 2021, according to the country’s central bank were:
- Refined petroleum = $2.8 billion
- Textiles = $3.1 billion
- Chemical products = $1.1 billion
- Food & beverage = $1.7 billion
Of course, without the cash to purchase these goods from abroad, Sri Lankans face an increasingly drastic situation.
Additionally, the debt Sri Lanka has incurred is huge, further hampering their ability to boost their reserves. Recently, they defaulted on a $78 million loan from international creditors, and in total, they’ve borrowed $50.7 billion.
The largest source of their debt is by far due to market borrowings, followed closely by loans taken from the Asian Development Bank, China, and Japan, among others.
What it Means
Sri Lanka is home to more than 22 million people who are rapidly losing the ability to purchase everyday goods. Consumer inflation reached 39% at the end of May.
Due to power outages meant to save energy and fuel, schools are currently shuttered and children have nowhere to go during the day. Protesters calling for the president’s resignation have been camped in the capital for months, facing tear gas from police and backlash from president Rajapaksa’s supporters, but many have also responded violently to pushback.
India and China have agreed to send help to the country and the the International Monetary Fund recently arrived in the country to discuss a bailout. Additionally, the government has sent ministers to Russia to discuss a deal for discounted oil imports.
A Foreshadowing for Low Income Countries
Governments need foreign currency in order to purchase goods from abroad. Without the ability to purchase or borrow foreign currency, the Sri Lankan government cannot buy desperately needed imports, including food staples and fuel, causing domestic prices to rise.
Furthermore, defaults on loan payments discourage foreign direct investment and devalue the national currency, making future borrowing more difficult.
What’s happening in Sri Lanka may be an ominous preview of what’s to come in other low and middle-income countries, as the risk of debt distress continues to rise globally.
The Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) was implemented by G20 countries, suspending nearly $13 billion in debt from the start of the pandemic until late 2021.
Some DSSI and LIC countries facing a high risk of debt distress include Zambia, Ethiopia, and Tajikistan, to name a few.
Going forward, Sri Lanka’s next steps in managing this situation will either serve as a useful example for other countries at risk or a warning worth heeding.
Note: The debt breakdown in the main visualization represents total outstanding external debt owed to foreign creditors rather total debt.
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?
Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country
Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.
This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.
How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?
To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.
Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.
Rising Interest Rates and Inflation
With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.
|Jurisdiction||Jan 2022 Inflation||May 2022 Inflation||Jan 2022 Policy Rate||Jun 2022 Policy Rate|
The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.
The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.
On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.
Pacing Interest Rate Hikes
Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.
However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.
“There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair
It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.
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