Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Large population countries

Partly because of my recent trip(s) to China, but also as a continuation of an idea I started in describing the ocean and atmospheres, I'll take a look at national populations today. In terms of the oceans and atmospheres, I looked at what they were composed of, and found that rather few elements were sufficient to cover a large fraction of each. It's a larger group for countries, but, still, fairly few (less than 10%) of the countries are required to cover over half the population of the world. The figures here are 2005 numbers from the 2006 Information Please almanac. They'll have changed since then, of course, but more on that later.

From a world population of about 6.6 billion, countries with more than 1% of the world's population are:
    1. China, 1300 million
    2. India, 1100
    3. USA 295
    4. Indonesia 242
    5. Brazil 186
    6. Pakistan 162
    7. Bangladesh 144
    8. Russia 143
    9. Nigeria 128
    10. Japan 127
    11. Mexico 106
    12. Philipines 88
    13. Vietnam 84
    14. Germany 82
    15. Egypt 77.5
    16. Ethiopia 73.1
    17. Turkey 69.7
    18. Iran 68.0
That's it. Of 192 members of the UN (current tally on Wikipedia) , only 18 have more than 1% of the world's population. They account for a little over 2/3rds of the world's people (68%). The first 6 account for half of all the people in the world.

One thing this suggests to me is that for modern citizenship, history, geography classes, it would be a good idea to learn some specifically about these countries. If only some bare elements of things like capitals, languages, religions, a bit of history, etc. In bygone days (i.e., when I was in elementary school), we did do that sort of thing, but only for the US plus western Europe. You'll notice up there that only 1 western European country is on the list. In other words, such an education didn't do much good towards living in the world I find myself in. Actually, my school did cover most of the rest of the list but we were distinctly odd for our time and area.

The up side of learning about this set is that, while it covers a large fraction of the world's people, the list is short.

If I drew up the comparable list for, say, 1939, you'd find far more European countries present. If I did it for 1880 or so, it would be even more Europe-heavy. I'll get to those at a later date.

A different list would show up if I did it in terms of the global economy, one much heavier on Europe. But you'd see many of the same contries on that list. 4 of the G8 are already on this listing. And a somewhat different list would show up by listing countries in terms of land area. Again, though, most of the largest are already given (in rough order, the biggest are Russia -- huge, Canada, US, China, Brazil, Australia -- all very large, India, ... 5 of the 7 are already shown above).

If anyone would like to take on constructing comparable lists -- countries with 1% or more of world GDP, countries with 1% or more of world land area, countries with 1% or more of world ocean EEZ area (Indonesia moves way up!) inside their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) -- please do send it in. I'll get there one of these days, but, as my recent posting rate suggests, this can be a while.

The European Union presents some problems for such list-making. The current EU-27 represents about 500 million people, so would be number 3 on the above list (and take Germany off it), and be a 'country' larger than India in land area. On the other hand it isn't exactly a country. I just finished reading Postwar: A history of Europe from 1945 to the Present by Tony Judt. 'What is Europe' is a more interesting question than I'd thought.


kcsphil said...

Your list, BTW, shows quite well why countries like Pakistan and Iran don't seem to feel beholden to the US in a number of areas - including response to global climate change.

for4zim said...

The question that matters here is what is the purpose of the list in first place? History shows, that population numbers don't say much about the political or cultural impact of people. You would usually weight these numbers. Weighting by income would be a good idea, weighting by growth of population, income, and technological development could be another.
I once made a table based on 2007 or older numbers for the economic impact of languages (gross national products summed up for each native language spoken). The list was (with relative units given):
1. English 18
2. Japanese 5
3. German 3.2
4. Chinese (Mandarin + Cantonese) 3.1
5. Spanish 2.6
6. French 2.5
7. Italian 1.8
8. Portuguese 1.0
9. Scandinavian (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish) 1.0
10. Arabian 0.9
11. Indian (Hindi + Urdu + others) 0.9
12. Netherlandish (Flemish) 0.9
13. Korean 0.8
13. Russian 0.8
Counting just Hindi would Indian put to place 14. in front of Turkish, Indonesian and Polish on the following ranks. Numbers are income per capita times native speakers or usual speakers of a language in US-$ divided by 1 Trillion. German and Chinese might just change ranks.

Penguindreams said...

Political and cultural impact ... well, soon as we have a measure of those, I'll be interested in that list. Economics I already mentioned. It isn't a good proxy for political or cultural, but it is interesting in its own right.

The list I made tells us something about where the people are. If you're interested in the planet and the people who live on it, as I am, then that's sufficient in its own right.

Your list ... well, you aren't managing the langauges well including that not only are some not languages but you've lumped entirely different language groups together. Mandarin and Cantonese are different languages, and you're missing Wu, Min, Xiang, Gan, and others that use the written system, plus the other languages spoken in China. 'Scandanavian' is not a language group, or if it is, then you need to add Icelandic and some others. Arabian is not a language; it's a geographic area which has little to do with where the language -- Arabic -- is spoken.

India is just enormously more complex than 'Hindi, Urdu, and others'. To start with, the official languages, or more official, or at least commonly noted as official by people who don't want to deal with the real complexity, are Hindi and English. If you more more accurate about the list (see, for example,
Then you've got 22 Indian languages plus English as an outlier.

If you then turn to linguistics even slightly, you discover that the Indian languages span at least two entirely different language families -- Indo-European and Dravidian. Hindi is Indo-European (often abbreviated IE) and Tamil, for example, is Dravidian. The thing about language families is that when you cross between them, you're looking at more difference between families than between pairs of languages within family. In other words, Hindi is more like English than Tamil. You can start to scratch the surface at Wikipedia.

It would be extremely difficult to prepare the table you tried to do with any accuracy.

for4zim said...

It is correct to note that my list includes some lumping. However, it is not so bad as it seems. Chinese is not a language, but the signs used in Mandarin and Cantonese have the same meanings. The Beijing-Dialekt is used by about 70% of the population with increasing share of the total, because it is promoted. So you might correct to this dialect of Mandarin (Putonghua) and "Chinese" still looses but 1 place in the ranking. If you take the meaning of language broader as language plus culture expressed by this language, you wouldn't put this concept too narrow.
Swedish, Norwegian and Danish are so similar, that native speakers of each language can understand each others, while Icelandish is rather an ancient "Nordish" language, which I would put separate. The biggest problem in such a concept is "Indian" because the two most spoken languages Hindi and Urdu include not only different languages but often different culture and religion. Thus I already showed Hindi for itself in the table, which is spoken by 60% of the population (though 40% native speakers of Hindi). With Arabian I explicitely mean the countries, where the High Arabian language and scripture is used as official language like in Northern Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula.

The list is definitely not completely correct, partly because numbers for gross domestic product, national income or whatever given in US-$ or Euro vary depending on the source and the time, partly because the difference between having a native language and a language used for most official purposes is sometimes not so clear.

Pete Murphy said...

Something else you might consider is population density instead of just population. I believe that population density is a missing ingredient in most economic theory. I have developed a new economic theory that relates population density to per capita consumption. As population density rises beyond some optimum level, over-crowding and a lack of space for using and storing products begins to drive down per capita consumption. Falling per capita consumption, especially in the face of rising productivity, inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty. This has huge implications for population management and for international trade.

If you're interested in learning more, I recommend reading my book, "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." You can find it at either of my web sites at and at, where you can read the preface, join in my blog discussion and, of course, purchase the book if you like. (It's also available at

Pete Murphy
Author, "Five Short Blasts"

Penguindreams said...

Hmm. Pete, while I agree that population density is under-appreciated, it doesn't strike me as being very much related to economy in that way. Having a place for your stuff, hence ability to buy that stuff, is an issue if the stuff is durable, stuff-buying is a significant part of the economy, and the stuff is 'large'.

But a large fraction of the stuff purchased is non-durable or short-lived. And the service side of economies have been the major growth areas, reducing the relevance of stuff. Finally, some kinds of 'stuff' have been shrinking. My wife and I have large (in number and space) collections of books, some friends have large collections of records, tapes, cds, dvds. Probably our entire book collection or their entire music and video collections could be replaced by a few dvds (us), a modest number of dvds (music collections), or a hard disk or two (music/video). That'd leave us a lot more space for more stuff of other sorts.

Now if you have research data that suggests otherwise, that'll be interesting to see. Data trumps intuition.

Speaking of intuitions, though, mine is that of a non-economist. Are you a professional in that area yourself?