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This is a map of world populations: the larger the
country, the bigger its population. Each grid square
represents a million people. To save you the bother of
counting up the squares, we’ve printed the total under the
name of every country with more than 10 million people.
With this map it’s easy to get a sense of relative size.
The most populous countries leap off the page - China, India
- while the smallest countries - countries with fewer than a
million people - don’t show up at all. Instead these are
listed on the chart between South America and Africa.
Population is all about numbers, but often it’s hard to
grasp numbers. Turning numbers into graphics makes them
easier to comprehend because graphics are easier to make
sense of than numbers.
But then the question arises, Where exactly are the
graphics located? Where are they on the earth? Our map
combines the comparative advantages of graphics with the
locational power of a map to let you know … where the people
Because the grid squares are the same size everywhere on
the map, on the map everyone is treated equally. This is
truly a map that is fair to all people.
Other kinds of maps are fair to all square miles. Such
maps - on which every grid square represents the same number
of square miles - are called equal area maps. The
Hobo-Dyer Map is an equal area map. On equal area maps,
the larger the country is on the map the more territory it
has. Another equal area map you might have heard of is the
Peters Map. There are many different kinds of equal
Many well-known maps show neither the land nor the people
proportionately. A map such as the famous
Mercator exaggerates the sizes of countries to
preserve their shapes... it illustrates nothing about the
numbers of people.
No map shows the world as it truly is. This is obvious by
the fact that maps are smaller than the world. The first
thing mapmakers do to the world is shrink it down. Making
maps smaller than the earth means that mapmakers have to
sacrifice detail. Given the huge size of the earth, and the
small size of most maps, you can see that mapmakers must
leave almost all the detail off a map.
Maps are also flat while the surface of the earth is
curved. To make maps flat, mapmakers have to give up other
things. A map that shows the shapes of countries as they are
on the earth can’t show sizes of countries as they are on
the earth. A map that shows true areas can’t show true
shapes. A map like ours that shows population sizes can’t
show either the area or the realistic shape of the land.
Every map gives up some aspect of reality to present
another. Our map gives up territory to present people.
China and India are the biggest countries in the world.
But it can still shock people when they see what this means.
Studying this map may make it easier to understand why
U.S.A. jobs are being lost to these two giants. China alone
has a fifth of the world’s population (20%). Taken together
China and India have over a third (37%). The United States
has less than a twentieth (4.5%).
The U.S.A. is the third most populous country in the
world. It is not common to compare the United States to
Indonesia. It’s easy to dismiss Indonesia as just a bunch of
islands on the edge of the world. But as this map makes very
apparent, Indonesia, with 242 million people, is almost as
big as the United States, with 295 million people. Indonesia
is the fourth largest country in the world. Incidentally,
for those who think all Muslims live in the Middle East,
Indonesians are 90% Muslim. That’s 218 million Muslims who
don’t live anywhere near the Middle East! Indonesia is not
the only large Pacific island nation: check out the
Philippines and Japan. Over 127 million people live in
Japan. Nearly 88 million live in the Philippines! These are
very large countries.
The smallest completely independent country in the world,
Tuvalu, is also a Pacific island nation. It has only 11,636
inhabitants. Because this number is under 1 million, it
doesn’t even get a single block on the map. There are a
total of 41 countries that don’t make the 1 million people
threshold, and they are all listed at the bottom of the main
People familiar with the way the Mercator shows the world
are used to seeing a really huge Canada and a comparatively
tiny Mexico. An equal area map, like the Hobo-Dyer, helps
correct that impression as far as territory goes. Our map
turns the perception on its head: Mexico has three times the
population of Canada, 106 million to not quite 33 million.
People who can’t understand why the tiny islands in the
Caribbean are so often in the news will also find our map
illuminating. Although some of these island nations are
among the world’s smallest - Antigua and Barbuda has fewer
than 70,000 inhabitants - countries like Cuba, Haiti, and
the Dominican Republic are sizeable. Altogether, more people
live on these islands than live in Canada!
Africa, on the other hand, is not as big as the news
sometimes makes it, though Nigeria, Egypt, and Ethiopia are
all very populous countries, with 141, 78, and 70 million
inhabitants respectively. Yet Europe, which many overlook
when talk turns to population, can show comparable figures.
82 million people live in Germany, 61 million in France, and
60 million in the United Kingdom. It’s not all about
birthrates either, which in Africa are the highest in the
world. Birthrates are quite low in these European countries,
where growth is fueled, like much of the growth in the
United States, by immigration.
Well over half the people in the world live in Asia.
Countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, with 162 and 144
million respectively, are larger than any we’ve just
mentioned. Pakistan and Bangladesh, once united as the
single country of Pakistan, are together larger than the
United States; but even by itself Bangladesh is larger than
Germany and France combined. Turkey has 70 million
inhabitants, Iran has 68 million.
Twenty-six million people live in Iraq. We’ve already
mentioned China’s and India’s huge populations, and the
large populations of Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines.
When thinking about world affairs, an important fact to bear
in mind is Asia’s dominance. This has been true throughout
True, 100,000 years ago most of the world’s people lived
in Africa, where humans originated. The map
panel #2 shows this
graphically. In it, and the string of maps that follow, the
number of people represented by a map-square increases as
the world’s population increases, from a world total of
around a million people 100,000 years ago, to around 10,000
million 50 years from today. Writing it 10,000 million
instead of 10 billion lets the fact that the number of
people in the world has increased 10,000 fold over the past
100,000 years really sink in.
Most of this growth has been in the past couple of
thousand years. A lot of it has taken place in the lifetimes
of many who are still living! A huge chunk of it will take
place in the next fifty years as the world’s population
soars from the present 6.5 billion to 10 billion in 2150. No
fact about the world is more important than this growth in
the numbers of humans.
Notice that it has not been a steady increase everywhere.
Around 100,000 years ago most of the million humans lived in
Africa. By the birth of Christ,
had increased to 161 million, nearly two-thirds of us
already lived in Asia. By 1650
numbers had multiplied to 545 million (just over half a
billion), just under two-thirds of us lived in Asia. By 1900
were 1,650 million of us (a billion and a half), 57% of us
lived in Asia. By 2150
when there will be 10
billion of us, 57% will still live in Asia. Of course, as
Hobo-Dyer demonstrates, Asia also has
the most land.
The Hobo-Dyer also shows that Africa is the second
largest continent in area. In 2150 another quarter of the
world’s population will be living there. Over four-fifths of
the world’s population will live in Africa and Asia!
Over time the relative size of the European population
has waxed and waned. Don’t misinterpret these maps. The
population of Europe increases in every one of them, from
around 50,000 in the first map, to 24 million at the birth
of Christ, to 100 million in 1650, to 408 million in 1900,
and to a projected 517 million by 2150. At the same time
Europe’s percentage of world population had changed from
less than 5% 100,000 years ago to a peak of 25% in 1900. By
2150 it will be back down to 5%. What impact might this have
on world affairs?
Scarcely less important is population density. People
prefer to live where the living is best. Asians, for
example, are not evenly distributed across the continent.
Far from it. Few people live in Asia’s great deserts, the
Gobi, the Takla Makan, the Rub al Khali, the Thar, the Kara
Kum. Few people live in the mountains of the Himalayas, the
Pamirs, the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, the Tien Shan. Few
people live in the barren Plateau of Tibet or in the Arctic
vastness of Siberia.
Asia’s enormous population is highly concentrated in a
few great river basins, coastlands, and islands. China’s
lives in the basins of the Huang Ho, the Yangtze, the Xun
Xi, and the coastlands between them. India’s lives along its
coasts and in the basin of the Ganges. Pakistan’s lives in
the Indus valley, Bangladesh’s on the floodplains and deltas
of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Japan’s population is
concentrated on the island of Honshu, Indonesia’s on Java,
that of the Philippines on Luzon.
These facts are displayed in
which shows the earth’s surface that is occupied by more
than 30 people per square mile. The absence of the usual
land and water distinctions helps make the point that in our
age water is no more a barrier to human interaction than
mountains and deserts, often less. In contrast to the usual
continents of land, these are the continents of humankind.
All eight maps displayed in our colorful poster help make
sense of the patterns of human life. Still more sense can be
made if other maps are consulted and compared. Maps of
landforms, climates, temperature, rainfall, natural
vegetation, soils, birth and death rates, agriculture,
mineral resources, religions, languages, GNP, expenditures
on weaponry, medicine and education, laws on slavery,
women’s rights and sexual orientation, science publications,
number of patents, and other facts are no further away than
your Internet browser, library, or bookstore. The more maps
you’re familiar with, the better you can understand the
world you live in. Fascinating sources of data can be found
Peters Atlas of the World
State of the
World Atlas (2003) 7th Edition, or Strategic Atlas: Comparative Geopolitics of the
World's Powers (1990), out of print, but available used from
Text by Denis Wood
© 2005, ODTMaps.com