Share of the urban population who live in the largest city

What you should know about this indicator

Population in largest city is the percentage of a country's urban population living in that country's largest metropolitan area.

Limitations and exceptions: Aggregation of urban and rural population may not add up to total population because of different country coverage. There is no consistent and universally accepted standard for distinguishing urban from rural areas, in part because of the wide variety of situations across countries.

Most countries use an urban classification related to the size or characteristics of settlements. Some define urban areas based on the presence of certain infrastructure and services. And other countries designate urban areas based on administrative arrangements. Because of national differences in the characteristics that distinguish urban from rural areas, the distinction between urban and rural population is not amenable to a single definition that would be applicable to all countries. For example, in Botswana, agglomeration of 5,000 or more inhabitants where 75 per cent of the economic activity is non-agricultural is considered "urban" while in Iceland localities of 200 or more inhabitants, and in Peru population centers with 100 or more dwellings, are considered "urban." In the United States places of 2,500 or more inhabitants, generally having population densities of 1,000 persons per square mile or more are considered "urban".

Estimates of the world's urban population would change significantly if China, India, and a few other populous nations were to change their definition of urban centers. According to China's State Statistical Bureau, by the end of 1996 urban residents accounted for about 43 percent of China's population, more than double the 20 percent considered urban in 1994. In addition to the continuous migration of people from rural to urban areas, one of the main reasons for this shift was the rapid growth in the hundreds of towns reclassified as cities in recent years.

Because the estimates of city and metropolitan area are based on national definitions of what constitutes a city or metropolitan area, cross-country comparisons should be made with caution. To estimate urban populations, UN ratios of urban to total population were applied to the World Bank's estimates of total population.

Statistical concept and methodology: Urban population refers to people living in urban areas as defined by national statistical offices. The indicator is calculated using World Bank population estimates and urban ratios from the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects. The United Nations Population Division and other agencies provide current population estimates for developing countries that lack recent census data and pre- and post-census estimates for countries with census data. The cohort component method - a standard method for estimating and projecting population - requires fertility, mortality, and net migration data, often collected from sample surveys, which can be small or limited in coverage. Population estimates are from demographic modeling and so are susceptible to biases and errors from shortcomings in the model and in the data. Because the five-year age group is the cohort unit and five-year period data are used, interpolations to obtain annual data or single age structure may not reflect actual events or age composition.

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, but national definitions are most commonly based on size of locality. Eurostat defines urban areas as clusters of contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 300 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 5,000. Further it defines high-density cluster as contiguous grid cells of 1 km2 with a density of at least 1,500 inhabitants per km2 and a minimum population of 50,000.

The population of a city or metropolitan area depends on the boundaries chosen. For example, in 1990 Beijing, China, contained 2.3 million people in 87 square kilometers of "inner city" and 5.4 million in 158 square kilometers of "core city." The population of "inner city and inner suburban districts" was 6.3 million and that of "inner city, inner and outer suburban districts, and inner and outer counties" was 10.8 million. (Most countries use the last definition.)

Multiple sources compiled by World Bank (2024) – processed by Our World in Data
Last updated
May 20, 2024
Next expected update
May 2025
Date range
% of urban population

Sources and processing

This data is based on the following sources

The World Development Indicators (WDI) is the primary World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially-recognized international sources. It presents the most current and accurate global development data available, and includes national, regional and global estimates.

Retrieved on
May 20, 2024
This is the citation of the original data obtained from the source, prior to any processing or adaptation by Our World in Data. To cite data downloaded from this page, please use the suggested citation given in Reuse This Work below.
World Bank's World Development Indicators (WDI).

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Multiple sources compiled by World Bank (2024) – processed by Our World in Data

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Multiple sources compiled by World Bank (2024) – processed by Our World in Data. “Share of the urban population who live in the largest city” [dataset]. UN Population Division (via World Bank), “World Development Indicators” [original data]. Retrieved June 19, 2024 from