Visualizing Population Decline by Country
Since the mid-1900s, the global population has followed a steep upwards trajectory.
While much of this growth has been concentrated in China and India, researchers expect the next wave of growth to occur in Africa. As of 2019, for example, the average woman in Niger is having over six children in her lifetime.
At the opposite end of this spectrum are a number of countries that appear to be shrinking from a population perspective. To shed some light on this somewhat surprising trend, we’ve visualized the top 20 countries by population decline.
The Top 20
The following table ranks countries by their rate of population decline, based on projected rate of change between 2020 and 2050 and using data from the United Nations.
|6||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||18.2%|
|18||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||10.9%|
Many of these countries are located in or near Eastern Europe, for reasons we’ll discuss below.
The first issue is birth rates, which according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), have fallen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across the region, the average number of children per woman fell from 2.1 in 1988 to 1.2 by 1998.
Birth rates have recovered slightly since then, but are not enough to offset deaths and emigration, which refers to citizens leaving their country to live elsewhere.
Eastern Europe saw several waves of emigration following the European Union’s (EU) border expansions in 2004 and 2007. The PIIE reports that by 2016, 6.3 million Eastern Europeans resided in other EU states.
There are two geographical outliers in this dataset which sit on either side of Europe.
The first is Japan, where birth rates have fallen continuously since 1970. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that the country’s overall population began to shrink.
By the numbers, the situation appears dire. In 2021, 811,604 babies were born in Japan, while 1.44 million people died. As a result of its low birth rates, the island nation also has the world’s highest average age at 49 years old.
The Japanese government has introduced various social programs to make having kids more appealing, but these don’t appear to be getting to the root of the problem. For deeper insight into Japan’s low birthrates, it’s worth reading this article by The Atlantic.
The second country is Cuba, and it’s the only one not located within the Eastern Hemisphere. Cuba’s fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman is the lowest in the Latin American region. It can be compared to countries like Mexico (2.2), Paraguay (2.5), and Guatemala (3.0).
Cuba’s immigration is also incredibly low compared to its neighboring countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, immigrants account for just 0.1% of its total population.
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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