Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth Population Growth and Distribution


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Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth

Population Growth and Distribution

World Population Growth, 1750–2150

Source: United Nations, World Population Prospects, The 1998 Revision; and estimates by the Population Reference Bureau.

Q&A: Has the world's population distribution changed much over time?

In 2000, the world had 6.1 billion human inhabitants. This number could rise to more than 9 billion in the next 50 years. For the last 50 years, world population multiplied more rapidly than ever before, and more rapidly than it will ever grow in the future.

Anthropologists believe the human species dates back at least 3 million years. For most of our history, these distant ancestors lived a precarious existence as hunters and gatherers. This way of life kept their total numbers small, probably less than 10 million. However, as agriculture was introduced, communities evolved that could support more people.

World population expanded to about 300 million by A.D. 1 and continued to grow at a moderate rate. But after the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, living standards rose and widespread famines and epidemics diminished in some regions. Population growth accelerated. The population climbed to about 760 million in 1750 and reached 1 billion around 1800 (see chart, "World population growth, 1750–2150,").

World Population Distribution by Region, 1800–2050

Source: United Nations Population Division, Briefing Packet, 1998 Revision of World Population Prospects.

In 1800, the vast majority of the world's population (86 percent) resided in Asia and Europe, with 65 percent in Asia alone (see chart, "World population distribution by region, 1800–2050"). By 1900, Europe's share of world population had risen to 25 percent, fueled by the population increase that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Some of this growth spilled over to the Americas, increasing their share of the world total.

World population growth accelerated after World War II, when the population of less developed countries began to increase dramatically. After millions of years of extremely slow growth, the human population indeed grew explosively, doubling again and again; a billion people were added between 1960 and 1975; another billion were added between 1975 and 1987. Throughout the 20th century each additional billion has been achieved in a shorter period of time. Human population entered the 20th century with 1.6 billion people and left the century with 6.1 billion.

The growth of the last 200 years appears explosive on the historical timeline. The overall effects of this growth on living standards, resource use, and the environment will continue to change the world landscape long after.

Exponential Growth

As long ago as 1789, Thomas Malthus studied the nature of population growth in Europe. He claimed that population was increasing faster than food production, and he feared eventual global starvation. Of course he could not foresee how modern technology would expand food production, but his observations about how populations increase were important. Population grows geometrically (1, 2, 4, 8 …), rather than arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4 …), which is why the numbers can increase so quickly.

A story said to have originated in Persia offers a classic example of exponential growth. It tells of a clever courtier who presented a beautiful chess set to his king and in return asked only that the king give him one grain of rice for the first square, two grains, or double the amount, for the second square, four grains (or double again) for the third, and so forth. The king, not being mathematically inclined, agreed and ordered the rice to be brought from storage. The eighth square required 128 grains, the 12th took more than one pound. Long before reaching the 64th square, every grain of rice in the kingdom had been used. Even today, the total world rice production would not be enough to meet the amount required for the final square of the chessboard. The secret to understanding the arithmetic is that the rate of growth (doubling for each square) applies to an ever-expanding amount of rice, so the number of grains added with each doubling goes up, even though the rate of growth is constant.

Similarly, if a country's population begins with 1 million and grows at a steady 3 percent annually, it will add 30,000 persons the first year, almost 31,000 the second year, and 40,000 by the 10th year. At a 3 percent growth rate, its doubling time — or the number of years to double in size — is 23 years. (The doubling time for a population can be roughly determined by dividing the current growth rate into the number "69." Therefore, 69/3=23 years. Of course, if a population's growth rate does not remain at this rate, the projected doubling time would need to be recalculated.)

The 2000 growth rate of 1.4 percent, when applied to the world's 6.1 billion population, yields an annual increase of about 85 million people. Because of the large and increasing population size, the number of people added to the global population will remain high for several decades, even as growth rates continue to decline.

Between 2000 and 2030, nearly 100 percent of this annual growth will occur in the less developed countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, whose population growth rates are much higher than those in more developed countries. Growth rates of 1.9 percent and higher mean that populations would double in about 36 years, if these rates continue. Demographers do not believe they will. Projections of growth rates are lower than 1.9 percent because birth rates are declining and are expected to continue to do so. The populations in the less developed regions will most likely continue to command a larger proportion of the world total. While Asia's share of world population may continue to hover around 55 percent through the next century, Europe's portion has declined sharply and could drop even more during the 21st century. Africa and Latin America each would gain part of Europe's portion. By 2100, Africa is expected to capture the greatest share (see chart, "World population distribution by region, 1800–2050", above).

The more developed countries in Europe and North America, as well as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, are growing by less than 1 percent annually. Population growth rates are negative in many European countries, including Russia (-0.6%), Estonia (-0.5%), Hungary (-0.4%), and Ukraine (-0.4%). If the growth rates in these countries continue to fall below zero, population size would slowly decline. As the chart "World population growth, 1750–2150" shows, population increase in more developed countries is already low and is expected to stabilize.


Birth rate (or crude birth rate): The number of live births per 1,000 population in a given year. Not to be confused with the growth rate.

Doubling time: The number of years required for the population of an area to double its present size, given the current rate of population growth. Population doubling time is useful to demonstrate the long-term effect of a growth rate, but should not be used to project population size. Many more developed countries have very low growth rates and, as a result, the equation shows doubling times of hundreds or thousands of years. But these countries are not expected to ever double again. Most, in fact, likely have population declines in their future. Many less developed countries have high growth rates that are associated with short doubling times, but are expected to grow more slowly as birth rates are expected to continue to decline.

Growth rate: The number of persons added to (or subtracted from) a population in a year due to natural increase and net migration; expressed as a percentage of the population at the beginning of the time period.

Less developed countries: Less developed countries include all countries in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and the Caribbean, and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

More developed countries: More developed countries include all countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.


  1. According to the projection shown on "World Population Growth, 1750–2150," about what percentage of growth is projected to occur in less developed countries after 2100?
  2. Which region is projected to gain the greatest share of world population between 2000 and 2050?

  3. During what "age" of human history did the world's population begin to grow rapidly?


  1. What is the world's population in 2000? How many people were added to the world population in 2000?

  2. Which regions have the fastest rate of population growth?

  3. In which region does the greatest share of the world's population reside?


Examine the World Population Data Sheet.

  1. Select five countries and find the corresponding population estimates, growth rates (rate of natural increase), and doubling times. Apply the rate of natural increase to the population to find the number of people being added to those countries this year. How do the doubling times (for the current rates of natural increase) relate to the projected populations?

  2. Find the countries with the highest and lowest growth rates. In which regions are these countries located?

Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth
Natural Increase and Future Growth

Population Growth through Natural Increase, 1775–2000

Source: Population Reference Bureau

Q&A: When could world population stop growing?

Population change affects all our lives in a much more immediate way today than it has throughout most of human history. For the first one-half million years of human existence, the population growth rate was about zero. The population stayed about the same size from year to year. It was not until the 1700s that the modern era of population growth began. Between 1850 and 1900, the annual growth rate reached 0.5 percent. The rate surged to 2.0 percent by the mid-1960s, dropped to 1.7 percent by the mid-1980s, and declined to about 1.4 percent by 2000.

Why has world population grown at such different rates throughout history? Population change results from the interaction of three variables: births, deaths, and migration. This relationship is summarized by a formula known as the balancing equation. The difference between births and deaths in a population produces the natural increase (or decrease) of a population. Net migration is the difference between the number of persons entering a geographic area (immigrants) and those leaving (emigrants). Natural increase usually accounts for the greatest amount of growth in a population, especially within a short period of time. For the world, growth occurs only when there are more births than deaths; for individual countries, migration is also a factor.

The Mortality Revolution

Human population grew rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, not because the birth rate increased, but because the death rate began to fall. This mortality revolution began in the 1700s in Europe and spread to North America by the mid-1800s. Death rates fell as new farming and transportation technology expanded the food supply and lessened the danger of famine. New technologies and increasing industrialization improved public health and living standards. Late in the 19th century, birth rates also began to fall in Europe and North America, slowing the population growth that had resulted from continued moderately higher birth rates than death rates.

Since 1900, both birth and death rates in the more developed countries have continued to fall in tandem, with a few interruptions. A worldwide influenza pandemic in 1918 caused the death of between 20 million and 40 million people and produced a temporary increase in the death rate. A slight increase in birth rates occurred after World Wars I and II. In the 1980s, birth and death rates in the more developed world fell to historic lows. However, the total fertility rate (TFR) in many more developed countries are well below replacement levels of two children per couple. In addition, poor economic conditions in the countries of the former Soviet Union have led to a serious decline in birth rates and increase in death rates, contributing to declining population size in some of these countries.

The Demographic Transition

Demographers have attempted to explain the experience of these more developed countries as a demographic transition from high birth rates and death rates to the current low levels. This process tends to occur in three stages. First, birth and death rates are both high, so little growth occurs. Second, death rates fall due to improved living conditions, while birth rates remain high. During this period population grows rapidly. The third stage of the transition is reached when fertility falls and closes the gap between birth and death rates, resulting again in a slower pace of population growth. The chart "Population growth through natural increase" is a crude representation of this transition. All the more developed countries have entered this third stage of the demographic transition. A few have gone on to a fourth stage in which death rates are higher than birth rates, and the population declines.

Components of Population Change

In contrast to the more developed countries, the less developed countries — in Asia, Africa, and Latin America — had both higher birth and death rates in the 1900s than Europe and North America had in the 1700s, and these higher rates have continued throughout the 20th century. In most less developed countries, the mortality revolution did not begin in earnest until after World War II, and it followed a different pattern than that in European countries. Birth and death rates were higher at the start of the demographic transition than they had been in Europe or North America. Death rates fell rapidly in less developed countries through the introduction of medical and public health technology; antibiotics and immunization reduced deaths from infectious diseases; and insecticides helped control malaria. These changes did not result from economic development within the countries, but were a result of international foreign aid.

In the second stage of the demographic transition of these regions, mortality declines led to continued population growth. Birth rates even increased as a result of the better health enjoyed by the population. With declining mortality and increasing fertility rates, the population growth of the less developed countries achieved an unparalleled 2.5 percent per year in the 1960s. Overall, mortality rates in the less developed countries fell much faster than during the demographic transition in the more developed countries. As a result, there developed a large gap in the percentage of growth between these two regions. Since 1970, birth rates have fallen, but the death rate has fallen faster. The population growth rate is still high, about 1.9 percent annually in 2000. While the patterns of fertility decline have varied dramatically throughout the less developed world, many countries are well into the transition process. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where birth rates remained high through much of the 1980s and 1990s, fertility rates in most countries are declining.

Projections of World Population

No one really knows how large the world's population will be in the future. But we can make educated guesses by looking at past and present trends in two of the components of population growth: births and deaths. The third component, migration, can affect the growth of individual countries, but not to world population.

Future of World Population Growth: Three Scenarios, 2000 to 2050

Source: Untied Nations, World Population Prospects, The 1998 Revision

The chart "Future of world population growth" illustrates three scenarios for population change, depending on levels of fertility. World population is projected to increase to 7.8 billion by 2025, and to reach 8.9 billion by 2050, according to the medium scenario where fertility stabilizes at 2.1 children per women. This projection does not correspond with the doubling time of 51 years associated with the annual growth rate in 2000. The projection assumes that the growth rate will drop slightly by 2020 and continue declining as the century progresses. If the growth rate does fall and the world population reaches 11 billion by 2100, the population will have doubled in about 100 years.

Because most of the world's population growth is likely to continue to be in less developed countries, Asia will continue to hold the majority of the world's people. Africa and Latin America will gain larger shares than they have at present. The population of these regions may increase by 100 percent by 2100, according to moderate projections. In 2100, nearly 90 percent of world population could live in countries currently considered less developed, compared with about 80 percent today.


Birth rate (or crude birth rate): The number of live births per 1,000 population in a given year. Not to be confused with the growth rate.

Death rate (or crude death rate): The number of deaths per 1,000 population in a given year.

Demographic transition: The historical shift of birth and death rates from high to low levels in a population. The decline of mortality usually precedes the decline in fertility, thus producing rapid population growth during the transition period.

Emigration: The process of leaving one country to take up permanent or semipermanent residence in another.

Growth rate: The number of persons added to (or subtracted from) a population in a year due to natural increase and net migration; expressed as a percentage of the population at the beginning of the time period.

Immigration: The process of entering one country from another to take up permanent or semipermanent residence

Less developed countries: Less developed countries include all countries in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and the Caribbean, and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

More developed countries: More developed countries include all countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Mortality: Deaths as a component of population change.

Rate of natural increase: The rate at which a population is increasing (or decreasing) in a given year due to a surplus (or deficit) of births over deaths, expressed as a percentage of the base population.

Total fertility rate (TFR): The number of children women are having today. The average number of children that would be born alive to a women during her childbearing years if she conformed to the age-specific fertility rates of a given year.


  1. What were the levels of birth and death rates in less developed countries and in more developed countries in 1775?

  2. Describe how the birth and death rates in the less developed and more developed countries changed from 1775 to 1995.


  1. What are the components of population change?

  2. How does the world population growth rate today compare with the growth rate at other times in history?

  3. What were the causes of the "mortality revolution" in Europe and North America?

  4. Compare and contrast the demographic transition in more developed and less developed countries.

  5. How are population projections made?

Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth
Three Patterns of Population Change

Three Patterns of Population Change, 2000

Source: United Nations, World Population Prospects, The 1998 Revision.

Aside from the total size, the most important demographic characteristic of a population is its age and sex structure, or the proportion of people at each age, by sex. The age-sex structure determines potential for future growth of specific age groups, as well as the total population. For these reasons, the age structure has significant government policy implications. A population of young people needs a sufficient number of schools and, later, enough jobs to accommodate them. Countries with a large proportion of older people must develop retirement systems and medical facilities to serve them. Therefore, as a population ages, needs change from childcare and schools to jobs, housing, and medical care.

Population Pyramids

The age-sex structure of a country can be studied through population pyramids. The overall shape of the pyramid indicates the potential for future growth. The four representations of population age-sex structure provide an overall example of what a pyramid for different levels of population growth would look like — rapid growth, slow growth, zero growth, and negative growth. The horizontal bars show the percentage (or in some cases the actual numbers) of males and females in each age group.

The country pyramids shown on the chart "Three patterns of population change" also represent different stages of population growth going on today. The first pyramid, representing the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with its wide base and narrow top, is typical of a young population. This shape is the result of high birth rates that feed more and more people into the lowest bars and in turn shrink the relative proportion at the oldest ages. As the death rate declines, more people survive to the reproductive ages and beyond. The births they have further widen the base of the pyramid. This shape is common in many less developed countries that have experienced improvements in life expectancy but continue to have high birth rates. It reflects both a history of rapid population growth and the potential for future rapid growth.

The second age-sex pyramid is typical of a slowly growing population. The United States is an example of a country in slow growth. The United States has had declining fertility and mortality rates for most of this century. With lower fertility, fewer people have entered the lowest bars of the pyramid, and as life expectancy has increased, a greater percentage of the "births" have survived until old age. As a result, the population has been aging, meaning that the proportion of older persons in the population has been growing. This trend was interrupted by the postwar baby boom, 1946–1964, when birth rates climbed again. (The bulge of the baby-boom generation can be seen in the pyramid for ages 35–54 in 2000.) After 1964, birth rates continued their downward trend until the late 1970s. As the last members of the baby boom approached their childbearing years during the 1980s, the number of births rose again, peaking in 1990. These children, the youngest generation, are represented by the slightly widening base of the pyramid. Even though the number of births per woman is lower than ever before, the population continues to grow because of the children and grandchildren of the huge baby-boom generation.

Age-Sex Structures in Transition

A few countries have reached zero population growth or are experiencing negative growth because of low birth rates and an old age structure coupled with minimal net migration. While Germany's death rate exceeds its birth rate, its population continues to grow because of net migration. Pyramids in which the proportions of the population are fairly evenly distributed among all age groups are representative of many highly industrialized societies. Germany's old population reflects an extended period of low birth and death rates. While fewer children have been born, most of those born survive through to old age. The net effect is zero growth or no natural increase. Germany's pyramid also shows the effect of higher mortality among males. In an industrialized society, females generally outnumber males after age 40. This trend is particularly evident in Germany's oldest age group.

While birth and death rates usually determine the basic pyramid shape, migration also affects it. Typically, most migrants are in the working ages, and often more males than females migrate across national borders. In some Middle Eastern countries a large number of men migrated to work in the oil fields, which caused a bulge in one side of the pyramid, while it took a "bite" out of the pyramid of some of the countries from which they came.

Short-term fluctuations in birth and death rates that produce unusual bites or bulges in population pyramids, such as the baby boom, often can be traced to such historical events as wars, epidemics, economic booms, or depressions. The decline in the birth rate during the Great Depression caused a small bite in the U.S. pyramid for the group born between 1930 and 1934. World Wars I and II caused a deficit of older men in Germany. The impact of these events emphasizes the interrelationships among population change and economic, social, political, and health factors.


Age-sex structure: The composition of a population as determined by the number or proportion of males and females in each age category. The age-sex structure of a population is the cumulative result of past trends in fertility, mortality, and migration. Information on age-sex composition is essential for the description and analysis of many other types of demographic data.

Baby boom: A dramatic increase in fertility rates and in the absolute number of births. In the United States this occured during the period following World War II (1946-1964).

Birth rate (or crude birth rate): The number of live births per 1,000 population in a given year. Not to be confused with the growth rate.

Death rate (or crude death rate): The number of deaths per 1,000 population in a given year.

Growth rate: The number of persons added to (or subtracted from) a population in a year due to natural increase and net migration; expressed as a percentage of the population at the beginning of the time period.

Less developed countries: Less developed countries include all countries in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and the Caribbean, and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

Life expectancy: The average number of additional years a person of a given age could expect to live if current mortality trends were to continue for the rest of that person's life. Most commonly cited as life expectancy at birth.

More developed countries: More developed countries include all countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Mortality: Deaths as a component of population change.

Net migration: The net effect of immigration and emigration on an area's population in a given time period, expressed as an increase or decrease.

Population pyramid: A bar chart, arranged vertically, that shows the distribution of a population by age and sex. By convention, the younger ages are at the bottom, with males on the left and females on the right.

Rate of natural increase: The rate at which a population is increasing (or decreasing) in a given year due to a surplus (or deficit) of births over deaths, expressed as a percentage of the base population.

Zero population growth: A population in equilibrium, with a growth rate of zero, achieved when births plus immigration equal deaths plus emigration. Zero growth is not to be confused with replacement level fertility.


  1. What percentage of the population of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States, and Germany are 0–4 years old?

  2. Which of the three countries has the greatest proportion of people ages 65 and older?


  1. How can the age-sex structure of a population help determine the needs of that population?

  2. What does it mean to have a "young" or "old" population?

  3. How can migration affect the shape of a pyramid?

  4. What is "zero population growth"? Which pyramid represents this concept?


The dependency ratio is a measure used to indicate the ratio of people in the "dependent" ages (under 15 and ages 65 and older) per 100 people in the "economically productive" ages (15–64 years of age). The formula for the dependency ratio is:

  1. Calculate the dependency ratios for Kenya, Germany, Brazil, and Japan. Compare the components of each of them.

What are the implications of high or low dependency ratios for economic resources and development?

Human Population: Fundamentals of Growth

Patterns of World Urbanization

Largest Urban Agglomerations, 1950, 2000, 2015

Source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, The 1999 Revision.

Q&A: What are the social implications of rapid population growth in less developed countries?

Through most of history, the human population has lived a rural lifestyle, dependent on agriculture and hunting for survival. In 1800, only 3 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas. By 1900, almost 14 percent were urbanites, although only 12 cities had 1 million or more inhabitants. In 1950, 30 percent of the world's population resided in urban centers. The number of cities with over 1 million people had grown to 83.

The world has experienced unprecedented urban growth in recent decades. In 2000, about 47 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas, about 2.8 billion. There are 411 cities over 1 million. More developed nations are about 76 percent urban, while 40 percent of residents of less developed countries live in urban areas. However, urbanization is occurring rapidly in many less developed countries. It is expected that 60 percent of the world population will be urban by 2030, and that most urban growth will occur in less developed countries.

What is an urban area? An urban area may be defined by the number of residents, the population density, the percent of people not dependent upon agriculture, or the provision of such public utilities and services as electricity and education. Some countries define any place with a population of 2,500 or more as urban; others set a minimum of 20,000. There are no universal standards, and generally each country develops its own set of criteria for distinguishing urban areas. The United States defines urban as a city, town, or village with a minimum population of 2,500 people. The classification of metropolitan includes both urban areas as well as rural areas that are socially and economically integrated with a particular city.

When comparing countries it is often helpful to look beyond the proportion of populations that are rural or urban and instead consider the size of cities. Countries differ markedly in the distribution of their urban population. For example, many urban dwellers in Africa live in cities of fewer than 10,000 residents. In Argentina, 90 percent of the 2000 population was urban, and 38 percent of these people lived in just one city, Buenos Aires. In 2000, 39 percent of the world's urbanites lived in agglomerations of 1 million or more inhabitants, and 15 percent resided in agglomerations of 5 million or more. Only 8 percent of Americans live in cities of 1 million or more.

Migration or Natural Increase

A city grows through natural increase — the excess of births over deaths — and because the in-migration of people from other cities, rural areas, or countries is greater than out-migration. More developed and less developed countries of the world differ not only in the percent living in cities, but also in the way in which urbanization is occurring.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, urbanization resulted from and contributed to industrialization. New job opportunities in the cities spurred the mass movement of surplus population away from the countryside. At the same time, migrants provided cheap, plentiful labor for the emerging factories. While the proportion increased through rural to urban migration, high death rates in the cities slowed urban growth. Cities were unhealthy places because of crowded living conditions, the prevalence of contagious diseases, and the lack of sanitation. Until the mid-1800s, the number of deaths exceeded births in many large European cities. Migration accounted for as much as 90 percent of city growth during this period.

Urbanization in most less developed countries in the past 50 years contrasts sharply with the experience of the more developed countries. Death rates have fallen faster in urban areas because of greater access to health services. Because birth rates are relatively high in most less developed countries, the rates of natural increase are also quite high in cities. Migration also fuels urban growth in less developed countries as people leave the countryside in search of better jobs.

Growth of Urban Agglomerations, 1950–2015

Source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, The 1999 Revision.

The chart "Growth of urban agglomerations" shows population growth in selected cities. New York and London are typical of large cities in more developed countries that arose in the 1800s and early 1900s, reached their current size mid-century, and have since experienced slow growth or decline. Cities in some less developed countries, such as Mexico City, grew very rapidly between 1950 and 1980, and are growing more slowly now. Many Asian and African cities, such as Lagos and Bombay, are experiencing very rapid growth now and are projected to continue at this pace.


As the population increases, more people will live in large cities. Many people will live in the growing number of cities with over 5 million habitants known as megacities. As the map "Largest urban agglomerations" shows, just eight cities had populations of 5 million or more in 1950, two of them in less developed countries. Megacities numbered 41 in 2000. By 2015, 59 megacities will exist, 48 in less developed countries.

By the turn of the century, cities of 10 million and larger will be more common. In 1950, only one city had more than 10 million inhabitants (see table, "Top 10 Largest Urban Agglomerations" below). By 2015, 23 cities are projected to hold over 10 million people; all but four will be in less developed countries.

Top 10 largest urban agglomerations in 1950, 2000, 2015




1. New York, USA


1. Tokyo, Japan


1. Tokyo, Japan


2. London, England


2. Mexico City, Mexico


2. Bombay, India


3. Tokyo, Japan


3. Bombay, India


3. Lagos, Nigeria


4. Paris, France


4. São Paulo, Brazil


4. Dhaka, Bangladesh


5. Moscow, Russia


5. New York, USA


5. São Paulo, Brazil


6. Shanghai, China


6. Lagos, Nigeria


6. Karachi, Pakistan


7. Essen, Germany


7. Los Angeles, USA


7. Mexico City, Mexico


8. Buenos Aires, Argentina


8. Calcutta, India


8. New York, USA


9. Chicago, USA


9. Shanghai, China


9. Jakarta, Indonesia


10. Calcutta, India


10. Buenos Aires, Argentina


10. Calcutta, India


Source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, The 1999 Revision.


Death rate (or crude death rate): The number of deaths per 1,000 population in a given year.

Less developed countries: Less developed countries include all countries in Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), and Latin America and the Caribbean, and the regions of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

Megacities: A city with a population of 10 million or more residents.

Metropolitan area: A large concentration of population, usually an area with 100,000 or more people. The area typically includes an important city with 50,000 or more inhabitants and the administrative areas bordering the city that are socially and economically integrated with it.

More developed countries: More developed countries include all countries in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

Rate of natural increase: The rate at which a population is increasing (or decreasing) in a given year due to a surplus (or deficit) of births over deaths, expressed as a percentage of the base population.

Urban: Countries differ in the way they classify population as "urban" or "rural." Typically, a community or settlement with a population of 2,000 or more is considered urban. A listing of country definitions is published annually in the United Nations Demographic Yearbook.

Urban agglomeration: Urban agglomerations are areas of 1 million population or more. The concept of agglomeration defines the population contained within the contours of contiguous territory inhabited at urban levels of residential density without regard to administrative boundaries.

Urbanization: Growth in the proportion of a population living in urban areas.


  1. Where will most of the new 5 million-plus cities spring up in 2015 — in more developed or less developed countries?

  2. How did growth in London differ from that of Lagos in the past 50 years?


  1. What is the definition of an urban area?

  2. In 2000, did most of the world's people live in rural or urban areas?

  3. Describe the differences in the patterns of urbanization in the more developed and less developed countries.


Find the column on the World Population Data Sheet showing the percent of population residing in urban areas. Also examine the list of the largest cities found in the table "Top 10 Largest Agglomerations." For the 10 largest cities, calculate the proportion of the country's population living in that city in 2000. For example, 18.4 million people reside in Mexico City; this is 18.5 percent of Mexico's population.


Why are megacities increasing so rapidly in less developed countries? What are some implications of rapid growth in these cities?


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