The World’s 100 Smallest Countries
National borders may be mere human constructs, but they are powerful ones.
Russia, Canada, the U.S., and so on—it’s easy to focus on the countries with the largest landmasses and seemingly endless borders. Their sheer size makes them hard to ignore, and their natural resources are often vast.
But with the above graphic from TitleMax, we can focus on the power of small.
From economic might to religious influence, many of the smallest countries in the world are surprisingly powerful. Let’s take a closer look at the world’s 100 smallest countries and their spheres of influence.
|8||Saint Kitts and Nevis||101|
|12||Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||150|
|14||Antigua and Barbuda||171|
|19||Federated States of Micronesia||271|
|25||São Tomé and Príncipe||372|
|31||Trinidad and Tobago||1,980|
|70||Bosnia and Herzegovina||19,772|
|81||United Arab Emirates||32,300|
Although several of the national borders shown above may be contested, the graphic gives us a clear overview of the globe’s smallest nations.
The Power of Small
Small size doesn’t mean less power. In many cases, it’s the contrary.
The Vatican—the smallest country on Earth at 0.19 square miles—is renowned for its leader and main inhabitant, the Pope. As leader of the Catholic Church, the pontiff and his papal staff make up a sizable part of the country’s tiny population of 825. Most of the Church’s 219 Cardinals, its leading dignitaries, live in their respective dioceses.
With more than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, the Vatican’s sphere of influence is of course far larger than its small physical size. Although the walls of the Vatican are situated inside the city of Rome, Italy, its centuries-old influence spans continents.
Nearly 40% of Roman Catholics live in the Americas, while the fastest-growing Catholic population can be found in Africa—home to more than 17% of the world’s Catholics.
Where the Vatican’s power lies in religion, plenty of spending power is held by the tiny country of Monaco, the second smallest country on Earth.
Situated along the French Riviera, Monaco is surrounded entirely by France—but it also sits fewer than 10 miles from the Italian border.
At 0.78 square miles, Monaco could be compared to the size of a large farm in the U.S. Midwest. Despite its small size, Monaco has a GDP of nearly US$7.2 billion, and boasts over 12,000 millionaires living within one square mile.
Along with Luxembourg and Liechtenstein—both of which are included in the smallest countries list—Monaco is one of the only countries globally with a GDP per capita higher than $100,000.
Switzerland and the Netherlands, both found in this graphic at ranks 63 and 64, also hold large shares of the global economy given their size. These two nations rank 20th and 17th in the world in economic output, respectively.
Similarly, Singapore is the 20th smallest country on the planet, but it ranks in the top 10 in terms of GDP per capita ($65,233) and sits in 34th place globally in terms of nominal GDP.
Perspective is Everything
To give us a better idea of just how small the tiniest countries are, let’s take a look at some simple size comparisons:
- Monaco could fit inside New York City’s Central Park, with room to spare
- Brunei is roughly the same size as Delaware
- Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America, is similar in size to the state of Mississippi
- Nauru is the smallest island nation, and smaller than Rhode Island
- North Korea is roughly the size of Pennsylvania
“Small,” of course, is a qualitative factor. It depends on your vantage point.
As of September 2020, there are 195 countries on Earth. Although this graphic shows the smallest countries in the world, it is worth noting that a list of the world’s 100 largest countries would also include some of the same countries on this list, including North Korea, Nicaragua, and Greece.
Is It A Small World Afterall?
Viewed from space, there are no borders on our tiny blue dot. But from ground level, we know how much power national borders hold.
Although globalization may make our world feel smaller, our nations significantly impact our lives, societally and economically.
And, as this chart shows, power comes in all sizes.
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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