The Population of China in Perspective
China is the world’s most populous country with an astounding 1.44 billion citizens. Altogether, the size of the population of China is larger than nearly four regions combined: South America, Europe (excluding Russia), the U.S. & Canada, and Australia & New Zealand.
Using data from the United Nations, this unconventional map reveals the comparative size of China’s population next to a multitude of other countries.
Note: To keep the visualization easy to read, we’ve simplified the shapes representing countries. For example, although we’ve included Alaska and Hawaii in U.S. population totals, the U.S. is represented by the contiguous states map only.
A Historical Perspective
Looking at history, the population of China has more than doubled since the 1950s. The country was the first in the world to hit one billion people in 1980.
However, in 1979, in an attempt to control the burgeoning population, the infamous one-child policy was introduced, putting controls on how many children Chinese citizens could have.
While the government eventually recognized the negative implications of this policy, it appeared to be too little, too late. The two-child policy was introduced in 2016, but it has not yet reversed the current slowdown in population growth.
|Year||China's Population (Millions)||Annual Rate of Growth (%)||Median Age||Fertility Rate|
The fertility rate has been consistently falling from over 6 births per woman in 1955 to 1.69 in 2020. Today, the median age in China is 38 years old, rising from 22 in 1955. Longer life spans and fewer births form a demographic trend that has many social and economic implications.
Overall, China’s young population is becoming scarcer, meaning that the domestic labor market will eventually begin shrinking. Additionally, the larger share of elderly citizens will require publicly-funded resources, resulting in a heavier societal and financial burden.
Strength in Numbers
Despite these trends, however, China’s current population remains massive, constituting almost 20% of the world’s total population. Right now 71% of the Chinese population is between the ages of 15 and 65 years old, meaning that the labor supply is still immense.
Here are the populations of 65 countries from various regions of the world—and added together, you’ll see they still fall short of the population of China:
|🇺🇸 U.S.||331,002,651||North America|
|🇨🇦 Canada||37,742,154||North America|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||212,559,417||South America|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||50,882,891||South America|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||45,195,774||South America|
|🇵🇪 Peru||32,971,854||South America|
|🇻🇪 Venezuela||28,435,940||South America|
|🇨🇱 Chile||19,116,201||South America|
|🇪🇨 Ecuador||17,643,054||South America|
|🇧🇴 Bolivia||11,673,021||South America|
|🇵🇾 Paraguay||7,132,538||South America|
|🇺🇾 Uruguay||3,473,730||South America|
|🇬🇾 Guyana||786,552||South America|
|🇸🇷 Suriname||586,632||South America|
|🇬🇫 French Guyana||298,682||South America|
|🇫🇰 Falkland Islands||3,480||South America|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||4,822,233||Oceania|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||3,280,819||Europe|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||2,083,374||Europe|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||33,931||Europe|
|🇻🇦 Vatican City||801||Europe|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||67,886,011||Europe|
|🇮🇲 Isle of Man||85,033||Europe|
|🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||48,863||Europe|
To break it down even further, here’s a look at the population of each of the regions listed above:
- Australia and New Zealand: 30.3 million
- Europe (excluding Russia): 601.7 million
- South America: 430.8 million
- The U.S. and Canada: 368.7 million
Combined their population is 1.432 billion compared to China’s 1.439 billion.
Overall, the population of China has few comparables. India is one exception, with a population of 1.38 billion. As a continent, Africa comes in close as well at 1.34 billion people. Here’s a breakdown of Africa’s population for further comparison.
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||26,378,274||Africa|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||20,903,273||Africa|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||7,976,983||Africa|
|🇨🇻 Cabo Verde||555,987||Africa|
|🇸🇭 Saint Helena||6,077||Africa|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||59,308,690||Africa|
|🇪🇭 Western Sahara||597,339||Africa|
|🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||89,561,403||Africa|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||4,829,767||Africa|
|🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||1,402,985||Africa|
|🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe||219,159||Africa|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||11,193,725||Africa|
Future Outlook on the Population of China
Whether or not China’s population growth is slowing appears to be less relevant when looking at its sheer size. While India is expected to match the country’s population by 2026, China will remain one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses regardless.
It is estimated, however, that the population of China will drop below one billion people by the year 2100—bumping the nation to third place in the ranking of the world’s most populous countries. At the same time, it’s possible that China’s economic dominance may be challenged by these same demographic tailwinds as time moves forward.
Population Boom: Charting How We Got to Nearly 8 Billion People
In the next year or so, humanity is expected to pass the 8 billion person milestone. These charts and maps put global population growth into context.
Today, the global population is estimated to sit at 7.91 billion people.
By the end of 2022 or within the first months of 2023, that number is expected to officially cross the 8 billion mark. Incredibly, each new billion people has come faster than the previous—it was roughly only a decade ago that we crossed the 7 billion threshold.
How did we get here, and what has global population growth looked like historically?
In this series of six charts from Our World in Data, we’ll break down how the global population got to its current point, as well as some big picture trends behind the data.
#1: Mapping the Population Over 5,000 Years
New York, São Paulo, and Jakarta were not always bustling metropolises. In fact, for long parts of the history of civilization, it was unusual to find humans congregating in many of the present-day city locations we now think of as population centers.
The human population has always moved around, seeking out new opportunity and freedoms.
As of 3,000 BC, humans could be mainly found in Central America, the Mediterranean, the Fertile Crescent, and parts of India, Japan, and China. It’s no coincidence that that agriculture was independently discovered in many of these same places during the Neolithic Revolution.
#2: The Hockey Stick Curve
For even more context, let’s zoom way out by using a timeline that goes back to when woolly mammoths still roamed the Earth:
From this 10,000-foot view, it’s clear that human population growth started going exponential around the time of the Second Agricultural Revolution, which started in the 17th century in Britain. This is when new technologies and farming conventions took root, making it possible to grow the food supply at an unprecedented pace.
Soon these discoveries spread around the world, enabling population booms everywhere.
#3: The Time to Add 1 Billion
The data and projections in this chart are a few years old, but the concept remains the same:
It took all of human history until 1803 to reach the first billion in population. The next billion took 124 years, and the next 33 years. More recent billions have come every dozen or so.
So why then, are future billion people additions projected to take longer and longer to achieve?
#4: The Growth Rate is Shrinking
Because of demographics and falling fertility rates, the growth rate of the global population has actually been on a downward trend for some time.
As this growth rate gets closer to zero, the population curve has become less exponential like we saw in the first graphs. Population growth is leveling out, and it may even go negative at some point in the future.
#5: The Regional Breakdown
Although the rate of population growth is expected to slow down, there are still parts of the world that are adding new people fast, as you can see on this interactive regional breakdown:
Since 1973, Asia has doubled its population from 2.3 billion to 4.6 billion people.
Comparatively, over the same time frame, Europe has gone from 670 million to 748 million, equal to just an 11% increase.
#6: The Present and Future of Population Growth
Population projections by groups like the United Nations see the global population peaking at around 10.9 billion people in 2100.
That said, there isn’t a consensus around this peak.
Organizations like the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have a different perspective, and they have recently modeled that the global population will top out at 9.7 billion people by the year 2064.
As we climb to surpass the 8 billion mark in the coming months, it will be interesting to see what path humanity ends up following.
Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy
Global literacy mapped by generation, as well as a look at how the data on literacy has changed over time by country.
Mapped: The Geography of Global Literacy
Literacy is a fundamental building block that can lead to a strong education, the ability to solve complex problems, and gaining the skills and knowledge to participate meaningfully in society. As a result, it’s also an important facilitator of economic development.
However, it’s estimated that nearly 800 million adults around the world still lack basic literacy skills—and this can create ongoing drag on the economy.
In the U.S., as one example, the people with the lowest literacy scores are 16.5x more likely to receive financial aid from the government. At the same time, they are also more likely to be in the lowest earning wage group, earning less than $300 per week.
Today’s post uses charts from Our World in Data, and it shows what literacy looks like on a global scale, and how is it shifting from generation to generation.
Global Literacy: The Big Picture
Over the past two centuries, global literacy has seen steady growth.
In the year 1800, it’s estimated that a mere 12.1% of the world was able to read and write. The most recent data shows the numbers have actually flipped—and now just 13.8% of the global population is illiterate.
It’s clear that from a high level, progress towards global literacy is being made.
But at the same time, a look at the graph shows that in more recent years, the rate of change has been slowing as we reach the “last mile” of literacy.
The Generational Perspective
Learning to read and write is easiest and most fruitful at a young age, and it’s a skill that is very unlikely to be lost later in life. For that reason, it’s worth looking at the difference between older and younger generations in terms of who is learning these skills.
For this, we zoom into the Middle East and Northern Africa region, which is where the majority of recent gains in literacy have been made:
Here, the difference in literacy between the 15-24 year age group and those over 65 years is substantial, with countries seeing large, double-digit increases in the ability to read and write:
- 🇩🇿 Algeria
The literacy rate is at 92% for the 15-24 age group, compared to 16% of the oldest generation
- 🇮🇷 Iran
99% of the 15-24 age group is literate, while 29% of the oldest generation can say the same
- 🇴🇲 Oman
98% of those aged 15-24 are literate, compared to just 23% in the 65+ age group
- 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
98% of those aged 15-24 can read and write, versus 26% of those in the oldest bracket
- 🇪🇷 Eritrea
The literacy rate is at 90% for the 15-24 age group, and 18% for those in the 65+ age group
It’s not that surprising then, that the above countries all now sit in the 75-95% percent range for overall literacy—a number that will likely improve further as education systems continue to help younger generations become literate early in life.
The Literacy Opportunity
While some countries have seen obvious generational improvements in literacy, there are places in the world where changes to educational systems have not fully yet manifested yet, or perhaps the data is not yet available for.
According to the interactive map above, here are some places on each continent where progress must still be made:
- North America
Literacy rates: 🇭🇹 Haiti (61%), 🇬🇹 Guatemala (79%), 🇳🇮 Nicaragua (82%)
- South America
Literacy rates: 🇬🇾 Guyana (88%)
Literacy rates: 🇽🇰 Kosovo (92%)
Literacy rates: 🇦🇫 Afghanistan (38%), 🇵🇰 Pakistan (56%), 🇧🇩 Bangladesh (61%), 🇾🇪 Yemen (70%)
Literacy rates: 🇳🇪 Niger (19%), 🇬🇳 Guinea (30%), 🇸🇸 South Sudan (32%), 🇲🇱 Mali (33%), 🇨🇫 Central African Republic (37%), 🇸🇴 Somalia (38%), 🇧🇯 Benin (38%)
Literacy rates: 🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea (62%)
With many NGOs and educators focused on this problem, there is hope that the “last mile” of global literacy can be solved, leading to more economic opportunity in these places—and also the world itself as a whole.
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