The map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing

By showing us where the people in the world are, cartograms help us understand global living conditions better.

Our mission here at Our World in Data is to make the big global problems understandable.

To show global data it is convenient to use a map. But despite the popularity and familiarity of world maps, they can mislead our understanding of global living conditions.

Maps are made for a different purpose; they show us where the world’s land masses are. They don’t show us where the people are.

If we want to show where the world’s people are we need a population cartogram, a geographical presentation of the world where the size of the countries are not drawn according to the distribution of land, but according to the distribution of people.

So I spent the last few weekends making this cartogram for the world population in 2018.

The cartogram is made up of squares, each of which represents half a million people of a country’s population. The 11.5 million Belgians are represented by 23 squares; the 49.5 million Colombians are represented by 99 squares; the 1.415 billion people in China are represented by 2830 squares; and this year’s entire world population of 7.633 billion people is represented by the total sum of 15,266 squares.

As the size of the population rather than the size of the territory is shown in this map, you can see some big differences when you compare it to the standard geographical map we're most familiar with. Small countries with a high population density increase in size in this cartogram relative to the world maps we are used to – look at Bangladesh, Taiwan, or the Netherlands. Large countries with a small population shrink in size – talking about you Canada, Mongolia, Australia, and Russia.

The cartogram of the world population

We should keep this cartogram in mind when we are looking at charts that show country-by-country data, because we have to remember that the number of people that these charts speak about is very different from one country to the next: An increase of the life expectancy in Denmark means that the average health of 5.8 million people is increasing, while an increase for India means that the health of 1,354 million people is improving. And a line chart that shows improvements in all African countries or across all of the American countries refers to fewer people than a chart with a single line that shows an improvement in China. The two largest countries in Asia – China or India – are the home of more people than any other entire continent.

Some perspectives on the distribution of the world population

The cartogram offers us many more perspectives that we can keep in mind if we want to keep an overview of the world. Here are some that stand out for me:

Cartogram of Asia and Oceania

The cartogram below focusses on Asia and Oceania where 6 out of 10 people in the world live.

Cartogram of the Americas

The population of the Americas is roughly one billion (1.015 billion). 428 million live in South America and 587 million are at home in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Cartogram of Africa

1-in-6 people in the world live in Africa. The second most-populous continent is home to almost 1.3 billion people.

Cartogram of Europe

711 million people live in Europe, less than 10% of the world population.5

Population density

Another way to show where the world population lives is to show the population density of each country on a geographical world map, as you see below. The world's densely populated countries in Middle America, Europe, and South East Asia stand out – Bangladesh is the most densely-populated large country in the world, with 1,252 people per square kilometer. If you hover the mouse on the bracket from 0 to 10 on the legend then you see the world's least densely populated countries.

Click to open interactive version


While a geographical map is helpful if you want to find your way around the world, a population cartogram is the representation that we need if we want to know where our fellow humans are at home.

If you are interested in what is happening to the world population and you are following our work on Our World in Data, I hope these cartograms are helpful to you. If you want to print it you can get it in high resolution here.

This post draws on data and research discussed in our topic page on World Population Growth.

UPDATE: On September 20 and again on October 7 I have updated the World Population Cartogram and made a number of minor changes.

The Japanese translation of this post is here:グローバルな生活条件がどのように変化しているのかを私たちが考えようとするときに必要な地図.

Additional information: My models

When I made this visualization I built upon the work of others that made cartograms of the world population at earlier points in time: From cartograms from more than a century ago, to recent ones that emphasize the split between continents, to more recent ones like this one for 2005, and this one for 2015.7


  1. Russia’s land area is 17,098,246 square kilometers and the world has a land area of 148,940,000 square kilometers. Bangladesh has an area of 130,168 square kilometers, Florida has a land area of 170,305 square kilometers. Source of the data on land area.

  2. Calculated based on this data here.

  3. This is the estimate of the US Census (here) and also see Wikipedia here.

  4. The area of Rwanda is 26,338 km² and Burundi 27,830 km².

  5. Russia and Turkey, two populous countries, are partly European and partly Asian. Here I have counted the 110 million of the Russian population and 11.2 million of the Turkish population as European, in line with the estimates here.

  6. The Chinese GDP per capita in 2016 was 6,894 US-$ and in India 1,861 US-$. In Germany the GDP per capita was 45,552 US-$ and in Sweden 56,319 US-$. All data are here.

  7. There are many more online, including cartograms where not the size of the population, but other variables are represented.

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:

Max Roser (2018) - “The map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing” Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

BibTeX citation

    author = {Max Roser},
    title = {The map we need if we want to think about how global living conditions are changing},
    journal = {Our World in Data},
    year = {2018},
    note = {}
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