What are the sources for Our World in Data's population estimates?

Our team builds and maintains a long-run dataset on population by country, region, and for the world, based on three key sources.

Population size is our most commonly used metric throughout Our World in Data. It is used directly to understand population growth over time or indirectly to calculate per-capita adjustments of the many other metrics we care about: from extreme poverty to electricity access, CO₂ emissions, and vaccination rates.

Many population datasets cover a specific period. For example, the UN publishes data from 1950 onwards. However, few maintain very long-term datasets that are continually updated to the present day.

Our team, therefore, builds and maintains a long-run dataset on population by country, region, and for the world, based on three key sources:

The scripts that produce this long-run dataset can be accessed in our GitHub repository.

In all sources we rely on, historical population estimates are based on today’s geographical borders.

We provide a full citation for each source below. If you cite population data for a specific period, please cite the source. For example, for the period 1950 onwards, please cite the UN World Population Prospects. You can add “via Our World in Data” if you downloaded the data from us.

You can find the complete list of the sources used for each country and year here.

HYDE version 3.2

The HYDE database (History Database of the Global Environment) is maintained by researchers at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

HYDE is and internally consistent combination of updated historical population (gridded) estimates and land use for the past 12,000 years. Categories include cropland, with a new distinction into irrigated and rain fed crops (other than rice) and irrigated and rain fed rice. Also grazing lands are provided, divided into more intensively used pasture, converted rangeland and non-converted natural (less intensively used) rangeland. Population is represented by maps of total, urban, rural population and population density as well as built-up area.

Full citation: Klein Goldewijk, K., A. Beusen, J.Doelman and E. Stehfest (2017), Anthropogenic land use estimates for the Holocene; HYDE 3.2, Earth System Science Data, 9, 927-953.

The HYDE estimates go up to 2020, but they are only available once per decade for the period 1800–2020. Therefore, from 1800 onwards, when data is available from both HYDE and Gapminder, we favor the Gapminder dataset, as it provides annual estimates.


Gapminder version 7

Gapminder maintains a population dataset based on Angus Maddison and Clio Infra data. Their documentation provides the following details on their sources:

We use Maddison population data improved by CLIO INFRA in April 2015 and Gapminder v3 documented in greater detail by Mattias Lindgren. The main source of v3 was Angus Maddison’s data which is maintained and improved by CLIO Infra Project. The updated Maddison data by CLIO INFRA were based on the following improvements:

  • Whenever estimates by Maddison were available, his figures are being followed in favor of estimates by Gapminder;
  • For Africa, estimates by Frankema and Jerven (2014) for the period 1850-1960 have been added to the existing database;
  • For Latin America, estimates by Abad & Van Zanden (2014) for the period 1500-1940 have been added.

Full citation: Gapminder doesn’t provide a preferred citation. We cite their work as: Gapminder population dataset version 7, based on data by Angus Maddison improved by Clio Infra.

We use this dataset as our source from 1800 to 1949. In addition, we use their population estimates for the Vatican until 2100 since these are missing in the UN’s dataset.

Systema Globalis

Systema Globalis is Gapminder’s primary dataset, used in tools on their official website.

Full citation: Gapminder doesn’t provide a preferred citation. We cite their work as: Gapminder Systema Globalis.

Data from this source covers the period 1555-2008. We use it to complement our population dataset with data from former countries (e.g., the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, etc.) and other data not present in other sources.

UN World Population Prospects

We rely on the latest United Nations World Population Prospects (UNWPP) revision as our primary source for recent historical data and future projections. We use this data for its reliability, its consistent methods, and because it includes population estimates for almost all territories in the world. The UN updates its dataset every 2 years with the following:

The United Nations estimates may not always reflect the latest censuses or national figures. However, there are several reasons why we use this data over country-by-country national population estimates:

Full citation: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2022). World Population Prospects 2022, Online Edition. Rev. 1.

Cite this work

Our articles and data visualizations rely on work from many different people and organizations. When citing this article, please also cite the underlying data sources. This article can be cited as:

Edouard Mathieu and Lucas Rodés-Guirao (2022) - “What are the sources for Our World in Data's population estimates?” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

BibTeX citation

    author = {Edouard Mathieu and Lucas Rodés-Guirao},
    title = {What are the sources for Our World in Data's population estimates?},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2022},
    note = {}
Our World in Data logo

Reuse this work freely

All visualizations, data, and code produced by Our World in Data are completely open access under the Creative Commons BY license. You have the permission to use, distribute, and reproduce these in any medium, provided the source and authors are credited.

The data produced by third parties and made available by Our World in Data is subject to the license terms from the original third-party authors. We will always indicate the original source of the data in our documentation, so you should always check the license of any such third-party data before use and redistribution.

All of our charts can be embedded in any site.