In the last century, the global population has increased by billions of people. And it is still growing. Job opportunities in large cities have caused an influx of people to these already packed locations. This has resulted in an increase in population density for these cities, which are now forced to expand in order to accommodate the growing population. 

Population density is the average number of people per unit, usually miles or kilometers, of land area. Understanding and mapping population density is important. Experts can use this information to inform decisions around resource allocation, natural disaster relief, and new infrastructure projects. Infectious disease scientists use these maps to understand the spread of infectious disease, a topic that has become critical after the COVID-19 global pandemic.

While a useful tool for decision and policymakers, it is important to understand the limitations of population density. Population density is most effective in small-scale places—cities or neighborhoods—where people are evenly distributed. Whereas at a larger scale, such as the state, region, or province level, population density could vary widely as it includes a mix of urban, suburban, and rural places. All of these areas have a vastly different population density, but they are averaged together. This means urban areas could appear to have fewer people than they really do, while rural areas would seem to have more. 

Use this map to explore the estimated global population density (people per square kilometer) in 2020. Where do people tend to live? Why might they choose those places? Do you live in a place with a high population density or a low one?


Try the Layer

city
Noun

large settlement with a high population density.

disease
Noun

harmful condition of a body part or organ.

estimate
Verb

to guess based on knowledge of the situation or object.

infectious
Adjective

communicable; passed from one person to another.

influx
Noun

entry or inflow.

infrastructure
Noun

structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.

Noun

position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

natural disaster
Noun

an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

Noun

an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

Noun

disease spread quickly throughout a wide geographic area.

policymaker
Noun

person or organization responsible for creating government or organizational rules and behavior.

population
Noun

total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

Noun

the number of people living in a set area, such as a square mile.

Noun

division of a country larger than a town or county.

Noun

any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.

rural
Adjective

having to do with country life, or areas with few residents.

scale
Noun

distinctive relative size, extent, or degree.

state
Noun

political unit in a nation, such as the United States, Mexico, or Australia.

suburban
Adjective

of or relating to residential area that lies just outside a city.

urban
Adjective

having to do with city life.