World Facts

The World's Most Populous Countries

The world's most populous country is China, followed by India. Learn more about the most populated countries on the planet.

When it comes to population, numbers have always tended to be highest in Asia. Currently, Asia holds around 4.4 billion inhabitants, just over 60% of the world's population. Within it, China and India clearly stand out as the countries with the largest populations, totaling more than 2.6 billion people combined.

Problems Stemming from Population Growth in Asia

Though growth in Asia today is progressively slowing down in the countries with the largest human populations, throughout the majority of the 20th century national populations expanded rapidly there. This was due to the already high birth rates there not reducing as rapidly as the mortality rates. On that end, deaths from all causes dropped and life expectancies made leaps and bounds thanks to improved hygiene conditions, greater access to sanitation, and marked expansions of medical care. Due to the threat of overpopulation, regulated birth control is a common practice in some Asian countries, with India and China being the most notable cases.

In the past, China’s government set a controversial one-child policy in urban areas (with a two child exception in rural areas when the firstborn was a girl). Coupled with the practices of capitalism and the cultural values of the country this has created a significant problem of social inequality, as there is a culturally ingrained preference for boys within Chinese families. In Chinese culture, sons have the obligation to support parents in old age, while daughters move away from the original nuclear family to join with their husband's family. This preference for males is enhanced by the expansion of the labor market, which tends to proffer a higher average yield to men than to women. For these reasons, it's common for Chinese women to make a gender selection during pregnancy, more likely aborting female fetuses or abandoning female babies soon after birth.

In India, family planning and awareness programs have been created to face the tragic social situations that have been caused there by overpopulation. Despite its status as an emerging economy, the country continues to be flagged by high rates of extreme poverty and communicable diseases. Its demography is a youthful one, with over 50% of its population younger than 25 years of age. Catching up on China fast, the country is expected to be the most populous on our globe by 2022.

Also in Asia, we find Japan with a much better state of social welfare. Birth rates are quite low and living standards are very high despite being the tenth most populous country.

Large Populations Outside of Asia

While six of the ten most populous countries in the world are in Asia, the others are distributed across the other continents: the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, and Russia. Russia, a Eurasian country, has a population of over 143 million inhabitants as of December 2015. Although most of its territory is located in Asia, this is largely constituted by the frozen masses of Siberia. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Russian populace resides on the European continent.

The US owes much of its population density to a high immigration rate during the last decades. Currently population growth is lower slightly below 1%, and the birth rate is 1.86 births per woman as of 2014, which is below the natural level of replacement fertility rate of 2.1. This is slightly higher than many developed European countries, where the populations have been getting progressively older and are showing signs of negative growth. This is in stark contrast with the 1800s, when American women had an average of 7 children each.

Shifts in Population Trends

Currently, African countries exhibit the most rapid population growth rates. Over the last 50 years, Nigeria has quadrupled its population, mainly owing to extremely high fertility rates. Several projections estimate that Nigeria's population could grow to levels on par with China by 2100. By that time, the world's population is projected reach its peak, at around 10 or 11 billion people, with India having the highest population density.

Limits to Human Population Growth?

While the national population rankings may shift somewhat, Asia is unlikely to be surpassed in terms of continental population in the next few centuries. Though growth rates remain high in Central and South America, the Middle East, and across much of Africa, global rates are continuing to decline. Interestingly, many subject matter experts feel we have already exceeded the globe’s limits in supporting a long term human population of the size it now stands, and lack of resources may someday cause the global population to steadily decline. Mankind’s footprint on earth is larger than ever before, and unfortunately we have caused detrimental environmental and climatic changes that may be irreversible, and will always be part of our legacy. With global populations projected to reach close to 11 billion by 2100, we will be forced to find innovative new ways to further stretch our land, human, and natural resources to their respective limits.

Highest Country Populations Worldwide

1 China 1.397 Billion
2 India 1.309 Billion
3 United States of America 319 Million
4 Indonesia 258 Million
5 Brazil 205 Million
6 Pakistan 189 Million
7 Nigeria 181 Million
8 Bangladesh 161 Million
9 Russia 143 Million
10 Japan 127 Million
11 Mexico 125 Million
12 Philippines 101 Million
13 Ethiopia 99 Million
14 Egypt 93 Million
15 Vietnam 93 Million
16 Germany 81 Million
17 Iran 79 Million
18 Turkey 78 Million
19 Democratic Republic of the Congo 76 Million
20 Thailand 68 Million

More in World Facts