Megacity 2020: The Pearl River Delta's Astonishing Growth
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Megacity 2020: The Pearl River Delta’s Astonishing Growth



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pearl river delta population 2020

Megacity 2020: The Pearl River Delta’s Astonishing Growth

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In the late 1970s, the fertile river delta to the north of Hong Kong’s territory was primarily agricultural land. Shenzhen was an unassuming town of 30,000 people – with only one functioning taxi – and China was still very much a communist, rural country.

As the visualization above, by Time Out Hong Kong, demonstrates, the sleepy Pearl River Delta was on the cusp of an unprecedented growth spurt that would see cities expand and merge to become the largest contiguous urban region in the world.

A trickle becomes a flood

In 1979, the Chinese government – led by Deng Xiaoping – created four Special Economic Zones (SEZ) with the intention of attracting foreign direct investment and encouraging private enterprise.

The designation of Shenzhen and Zhuhai as SEZs was a strategic move to act as an “overflow” for businesses in Hong Kong, and the impact on the Pearl River Delta was profound and immediate.

A number of factors also helped contribute to the meteoric rise of the region: proximity to Hong Kong’s financial sector, a world-class seaport, a huge and inexpensive labor pool, cheap and abundant land, and few regulatory impediments to rapidly growing companies.

In the two decades after Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, the GDP of the region grow by more than 10x and urbanization – bolstered by large-scale infrastructure projects – began in earnest.

To put the scale of this population clustering into perspective, here are the populations of cities within the Pearl River Delta in 2020 compared with modern-day metropolitan areas in North America and Europe:

chinese cities compared to western cities

Today, this compact region has a GDP equivalent to that of South Korea.

Megalopolis at the Gates

The explosive growth the Pearl River Delta has upended the regional balance of power.

At the close of the 20th century, Hong Kong was the undisputed economic powerhouse of the region. In fact, just prior to the handover from the United Kingdom to China, the city’s economic output was equal to a quarter of China’s entire GDP.

Today, the situation is markedly different. Hong Kong is no longer a separate entity, and its GDP represents a mere 3% of China’s.

This shift in the regional dynamic is causing trepidation in Hong Kong, where over 90% of the millennial population identifies as “Hong Konger” as opposed to “Chinese”. Although the government has agreed in spirit to maintain the city’s autonomy until 2047, recent actions suggest an eagerness to integrate the entire region into a seamless megacity.

The blurring of the lines appears to be well underway, as more than half a million people from the city now reside in Mainland China, up from approximately 150,000 a decade ago.

One physical manifestation of Mainland China’s push for an integrated region is the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge. This colossal infrastructure project is a 31 mile (50 km) connection that includes bridges, tunnels, and three man-made islands.

In China, where each project is more ambitious than the next, it’s only fitting that the world’s largest urban area will be connected by the world’s largest sea crossing.

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Animated Chart: China’s Aging Population (1950-2100)

See why China is facing a demographic crisis in this animated chart.



China’s Aging Population Problem

The one-child policy defined China’s demographic transition for over three decades.

But to combat an aging population and declining birthrates, the government scrapped the policy for a new two-child policy in 2016. Despite this massive change, China still faces a growing demographic crisis.

The above animated population pyramid from James Eagle looks at the distribution of China’s population by age group since 1950, with projections up to the year 2100.

How the One-Child Policy Created a Gender Imbalance

Until 2016, the Chinese government strictly enforced the one-child policy since 1979 with hefty fines for any breach of rules. According to the government, the policy reduced 400 million births over the years.

However, it also led to sex-selective abortions due to a deep-rooted cultural preference for boys. As a result, China’s gender balance tilted, with a sex ratio of 111 males to 100 females in the population aging from 0 to 4 years old in 2020.

Often termed “the missing women of China”, this shortage of women is expected to worsen over time. According to the U.N.’s World Population Prospects, China is projected to have around 244 million fewer women than men in 2050.

Additionally, the country faces another impending consequence of the one-child policy—a rapidly aging population.

Why China’s Population is Aging

In 2020, China’s fertility rate—the number of children a woman is expected to have over her lifetime—stood at 1.3.

Generally, fertility rates drop as economies develop. However, China’s fertility rate is now lower than that of the U.S. (1.64 in 2020) and on par with countries like Japan and Italy, both of which are facing aging populations. Consequently, fewer newborns are entering the population, while many in the workforce approach retirement.

Most Chinese workers retire by age 60. Here’s how China’s retirement-age population is expected to shape up by the year 2100:

Year60+ Population% of Total Population

In 2021, people aged 60 and over made up nearly one-fifth of the Chinese population. As the country’s population begins declining around 2030, over 30% of all Chinese people are expected to be in this age group.

China’s aging population threatens long-term economic growth as its workforce shrinks and low fertility rates result in fewer newborns that would later enter the working-age population. Fewer working people means lower overall consumption, a higher burden on elderly care, and slowing economic growth.

So, how will China respond to the oncoming crisis?

The Three-child Policy

According to the 2020 national census, Chinese mothers gave birth to 12 million children in 2020—the lowest number of births since 1949.

In response to these results, the government passed a new law allowing each couple to have up to three children. Despite the change, the high cost of raising a child may deter couples from having a third child.

It remains to be seen how the three-child policy helps combat China’s demographic crisis and which other policies the government chooses to deploy.

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The Top 100 Companies of the World: The U.S. vs Everyone Else

Where are the top 100 companies of the world located? We highlight the U.S. share of the top companies by market capitalization .



Top 100 Companies World vs US Shareable

The Top 100 Companies of the World: U.S. vs Everyone

When it comes to breaking down the top 100 companies of the world, the United States still commands the largest slice of the pie.

Throughout the 20th century and before globalization reached its current peaks, American companies made the country an economic powerhouse and the source of a majority of global market value.

But even as countries like China have made headway with multi-billion dollar companies of their own, and the market’s most important sectors have shifted, the U.S. has managed to stay on top.

How do the top 100 companies of the world stack up? This visualization pulls from PwC’s annual ranking of the world’s largest companies, using market capitalization data from May 2021.

Where are the World’s Largest Companies Located?

The world’s top 100 companies account for a massive $31.7 trillion in market cap, but that wealth is not distributed evenly.

Between companies, there’s a wide range of market caps. For example, the difference between the world’s largest company (Apple) and the 100th largest (Anheuser-Busch) is $1.9 trillion.

And between countries, that divide becomes even more stark. Of the 16 countries with companies making the top 100 ranking, the U.S. accounts for 65% of the total market cap value.

Location# of CompaniesMarket Capitalization (May 2021)
🇺🇸 United States59$20.55T
🇨🇳 China14$4.19T
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia1$1.92T
🇨🇭 Switzerland3$0.82T
🇳🇱 Netherlands3$0.58T
🇯🇵 Japan3$0.56T
🇫🇷 France2$0.55T
🇩🇪 Germany3$0.46T
🇰🇷 South Korea1$0.43T
🇬🇧 United Kingdom3$0.43T
🇮🇳 India2$0.34T
🇮🇪 Ireland2$0.34T
🇦🇺 Australia1$0.16T
🇩🇰 Denmark1$0.16T
🇨🇦 Canada1$0.13T
🇧🇪 Belgium1$0.13T

Compared to the U.S., other once-prominent markets like Japan, France, and the UK have seen their share of the world’s top 100 companies falter over the years. In fact, all of Europe accounts for just $3.46 trillion or 11% of the total market cap value of the list.

A major reason for the U.S. dominance in market values is a shift in important industries and contributors. Of the world’s top 100 companies, 52% were based in either technology or consumer discretionary, and the current largest players like Apple, Alphabet, Tesla, and Walmart are all American-based.

The Top 100 Companies of the World: Competition From China

The biggest and most impressive competitor to the U.S. is China.

With 14 companies of its own in the world’s top 100, China accounted for $4.19 trillion or 13% of the top 100’s total market cap value. That includes two of the top 10 firms by market cap, Tencent and Alibaba.

 CompanyCountrySectorMarket Cap (May 2021)
#1AppleUnited StatesTechnology$2,051B
#2Saudi AramcoSaudi ArabiaEnergy$1,920B
#3MicrosoftUnited StatesTechnology$1,778B
#4AmazonUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$1,558B
#5AlphabetUnited StatesTechnology$1,393B
#6FacebookUnited StatesTechnology$839B
#8TeslaUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$641B
#9AlibabaChinaConsumer Discretionary$615B
#10Berkshire HathwayUnited StatesFinancials$588B
#12VisaUnited StatesIndustrials$468B
#13JPMorgan ChaseUnited StatesFinancials$465B
#14Johnson & JohnsonUnited StatesHealth Care$433B
#15Samsung ElectronicsSouth KoreaTechnology$431B
#16Kweichow MoutaiChinaConsumer Staples$385B
#17WalmartUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$383B
#18MastercardUnited StatesIndustrials$354B
#19UnitedHealth GroupUnited StatesHealth Care$352B
#20LVMH Moët HennessyFranceConsumer Discretionary$337B
#21Walt Disney CoUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$335B
#22Bank of AmericaUnited StatesFinancials$334B
#23Procter & GambleUnited StatesConsumer Staples$333B
#24NvidiaUnited StatesTechnology$331B
#25Home DepotUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$329B
#26Nestle SASwitzerlandConsumer Staples$322B
#28Paypal HoldingsUnited StatesIndustrials$284B
#29Roche HoldingsSwitzerlandHealth Care$283B
#30Intel United StatesTechnology$261B
#31ASML Holding NVNetherlandsTechnology$255B
#32Toyota MotorJapanConsumer Discretionary$254B
#33ComcastUnited StatesTelecommunication$248B
#34Verizon CommunicationsUnited StatesTelecommunication$241B
#35Exxon MobilUnited StatesEnergy$236B
#36NetflixUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$231B
#37AdobeUnited StatesTechnology$228B
#38Coca-Cola Co United StatesConsumer Staples$227B
#40Ping AnChinaFinancials$219B
#41Cisco SystemsUnited StatesTelecommunication$218B
#42AT&TUnited StatesFinancials$216B
#43L'OréalFranceConsumer Discretionary$215B
#44China Construction BankChinaFinancials$213B
#45Abbott LabsUnited StatesHealth Care$212B
#46Novartis AGSwitzerlandHealth Care$212B
#47NikeUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$209B
#48Oracle United StatesTechnology$202B
#49PfizerUnited StatesHealth Care$202B
#50ChevronUnited StatesOil & Gas$202B
#51China Merchants BankChinaFinancials$196B
#52PepsiCoUnited StatesConsumer Staples$195B
#53Salesforce.comUnited StatesTechnology$195B
#54Merck & CoUnited StatesHealth Care$195B
#55AbbVieUnited StatesHealth Care$191B
#56BroadcomUnited StatesTechnology$189B
#57Prosus NVNetherlandsTechnology$181B
#58Reliance IndustriesIndiaEnergy$180B
#59Thermo Fisher ScientificUnited StatesHealth Care$180B
#60Eli Lilly & CoUnited StatesHealth Care$179B
#61Agricultural Bank of ChinaChinaFinancials$178B
#62Softbank GroupJapanTelecommunication$176B
#63Accenture IrelandIndustrials$176B
#64Texas InstrumentsUnited StatesTechnology$174B
#65McDonaldsUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$167B
#66Volkswagen AGGermanyConsumer Discretionary$165B
#67BHP GroupAustraliaBasic Materials$163B
#68Wells Fargo & CoUnited StatesFinancials$162B
#69Tata Consultancy ServicesIndiaTechnology$161B
#70DanaherUnited StatesHealth Care$160B
#71Novo NordiskDenmarkHealth Care$160B
#72Medtronic IrelandHealth Care$159B
#73Wuliangye YibinChinaConsumer Staples$159B
#74Costco WholesaleUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$156B
#75T-Mobile USUnited StatesTelecommunication$156B
#76CitigroupUnited StatesFinancials$152B
#77HoneywellUnited StatesIndustrials$151B
#78QualcommUnited StatesTechnology$151B
#79SAP SEGermanyTechnology$151B
#80BoeingUnited StatesIndustrials$149B
#81Royal Dutch Shell NetherlandsOil & Gas$148B
#82NextEra EnergyUnited StatesUtilities$148B
#83United Parcel ServiceUnited StatesIndustrials$148B
#84Union PACUnited StatesIndustrials$148B
#85Unilever United KingdomConsumer Staples$147B
#86AIA ChinaFinancials$147B
#87LindeUnited KingdomBasic Materials$146B
#88AmgenUnited StatesHealth Care$144B
#89Bristol Myers SquibbUnited StatesHealth Care$141B
#90Siemens AGGermanyIndustrials$140B
#91Bank of ChinaChinaFinancials$139B
#92Philip MorrisUnited StatesConsumer Staples$138B
#93Lowe's CompaniesUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$136B
#94Charter CommunicationsUnited StatesTelecommunication$135B
#95China MobileChinaTelecommunication$134B
#96Sony GroupJapanConsumer Discretionary$132B
#97AstrazenecaUnited KingdomHealth Care$131B
#98Royal Bank of CanadaCanadaFinancials$131B
#99StarbucksUnited StatesConsumer Discretionary$129B
#100Anheuser-BuschBelgiumConsumer Staples$128B

Impressively, China’s rise in market value isn’t limited to well-known tech and consumer companies. The country’s second biggest contributing industry to the top 100 firms was finance, once also the most valuable sector in the U.S. (currently 4th behind tech, consumer discretionary, and health care).

Other notable countries on the list include Saudi Arabia and its state-owned oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco, which is the third largest company in the world. Despite only having one company in the top 100, Saudi Arabia had the third-largest share of the top 100’s total market cap value.

As Europe continues to lose ground year-over-year and the rest of Asia struggles to keep up, the top 100 companies might become increasingly concentrated in just the U.S. and China. The question is, will the imbalance of global market value start to even out, or become even bigger?

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