Global Population Distribution

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Global Population Distribution

The term population density is used to describe the pattern of where people live in the world. It is worked out by dividing the total population of a place by its area. This figure is then shown per square kilometre.

Some places, such as the Indian sub-continent or Western Europe have many favourable factors encouraging people to live there. These areas are described as being densely populated. Other areas, such as the Polar regions and the Amazonian region have very few people living there and are described as being sparsely populated.

Global distribution of population

Figure 1. The distribution of world population in 1994 via NASA / National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) (Public Domain).

Key - Global distribution of population

There are many reasons for the differences in population density. They can be divided into physical factors and human factors, and are described below:

Accessibility: Early settlers travelled by boat, and so established settlements on the coasts of the countries they landed in. Often these were far more accessible than the interior regions of the country. Examples of cities established by settlers due to their coastal location, include Sydney (Australia), New York (United States) and Cape Town (South Africa). All played a very important role in the settlement of those countries. The interior areas of countries such as Australia (Desert) and Brazil (rainforest) proved far harder to reach for the early settlers.

Climate: The best climates for people to live in are areas where there is a steady climate, with enough sunshine and rain for crops to grow. Places with climatic extremes, such as the Polar regions or deserts are too hot or cold for people to be able to easily colonise.

Relief: People tend to concentrate around flat land, often in river valleys, as this is the easiest for building and farming. The Ganges Valley in India is one example of a very densely populated river valley. Areas with high mountains were far harder to colonise, hence the fact that the Himalayas and Alps have a low population density.

Resources: People need water in order to survive, so that is an essential resource which determines where they choose to live. Other resources such as coal, oil, and minerals have also had a great impact on where people have chosen to settle.

Soil: Good, fertile soil was essential for early settlers, as they needed to establish agriculture in order to survive. These areas were often the river valleys, where there was fertile alluvial soil. Places with thin, poor soil were far less conducive to settlement.

Vegetation: Wood was an important fuel and building resource, so many people have concentrated near forests. However some, like the Amazon Rainforest, were far too thick for people to really exploit them.

Economic Factors: People tend to concentrate around prosperous areas.Most countries have experienced massive rural to urban migration at some point in their development, as the farm based workers have left the rural areas to try their luck in the big cities. This move to urban areas has caused many problems that will be explored in a later section. Transport improvements have allowed people to move to the economically prosperous areas far easier.

Political Factors: Countries with a stable government where people have no fear of persecution tend to have a high population density. Many people have moved out of countries, such as the republics of former Yugoslavia due to the political upheavals there.

Social Factors: Many cultural groups tend to group together, especially when they first enter a new country. Examples include areas in London which are dominated by Muslims, Hindus and Jews. Others prefer their own space, and live in isolation, such as the Eskimos in the Arctic.