Countries drawn in proportion to their populationCountries drawn in proportion to their population The world’s population underwent a massive increase during the 20th century. In 1900 it stood at 1.6 billion. By the end of the century, it topped 6 billion. It is estimated that, on 12th March 2012, it passed the 7 billion mark. Although population growth is slowing, the population is still increasing at a rate of 78 million people a year. According to the United Nations, the world population will be somewhere between 8.3 and 10.9 billion people by 2050.


Population density

Population densityPopulation densityThe world’s population is not evenly spread: some regions, including Europe, eastern North America, India, China and Japan have a much higher density of people. Here there are many more industrial cities, or the land is intensively farmed. 

Population growth from 1760 to todayPopulation growth from 1760 to today

Population growth

Rapid population growth began in about 1800 with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Then most of the increase was in Europe and North America as better health care and food resources became available. In 1900 most of the world’s largest cities were in these continents. In the 20th century, about 97% of the growth took place in the developing world: the countries of Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Here, people have traditionally had a lot of children because they fear that many will not survive to be adults. The average fertility rate in Niger, for example, is 7 babies per woman, compared to 1.3 in Poland.

A doctor checks a mother and child in Nairobi, KenyaA doctor checks a mother and child in Nairobi, Kenya Better health care, even in poorer countries, means that today fewer children die of hunger or disease, and fewer women die in childbirth. As a result, the populations of countries in the developing world now have large proportions of young people. Half of India’s population, for example, is under 25 years old. These young people are having children of their own, so the birth rate remains high. In contrast, regions like Europe have ageing populations because of low birth rate and high life expectancy. More than 20% of Italy's population, for example, is over 65.

Countries like China, the most populous country in the world, have taken steps to arrest the growth of their massive population. In 1979, the Chinese government introduced a policy of one child per family. Today, the policy has been somewhat relaxed. 


Countries with positive and negative migration ratesCountries with positive and negative migration ratesMigration is the movement of individuals, families and larger groups from one region to another in order to settle. The term migration usually refers to movement between one country and another, but sometimes it is used to mean movement within countries (such as from the countryside to cities). People who enter a new territory are called immigrants, while on leaving their home territory they are called emigrants. In 2013, it is estimated that 220 million people migrated from one country to another.  

The Zaatari refugee camp in JordanThe Zaatari refugee camp in JordanToday the majority of migration is for economic reasons. Economic migrations are called voluntary migrations because they are made by choice, in search of better job opportunities or higher wages. Reasons for involuntary migrations (also known as forced migrations) include natural and manmade disasters, war and political, religious or racial persecution. Forced migrants are often called refugees.

Consultant: Lloyd Jenkins

The world's most populous countries

  • 1 China 1,360,720,000
  • 2 India 1,220,800,000
  • 3 United States of America 317,564,000
  • 4 Indonesia 245,613,000
  • 5 Brazil 198,700,000
  • 6 Pakistan 182,490,000
  • 7 Nigeria 174,508,000
  • 8 Bangladesh 158,570,000
  • 9 Russia 143,700,000
  • 10 Japan 127,561,000
A street scene in BangladeshA street scene in Bangladesh


According to the United Nations, the world population could reach up to 10.9 billion by 2050.

The country with the lowest birth rate is Monaco, which had just 6.79 births per thousand people in 2013.

The independent country with the fastest shrinking population is the Republic of Moldova, which is shrinking at a rate of 1% per year due to a declining birthrate.

The country with the highest proportion of women to men is Estonia (around 100 women to every 84 men), largely because women have a higher life expectancy than men. The country with the lowest proportion of women to men is United Arab Emirates, where there are more than twice as many men as women, because a high number of men travel to the nation to work.

Yemen is the country with the lowest average age at which women marry. The average age for a bride is 11.5 years old (while the average groom is 28). The country with the highest average marital age for women is Sweden—the average bride is 32.5 (and the average groom is 35.1).

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