Why do populations concentrate more in some places than others? Both natural and human factors are involved. Low-lying flatlands are more hospitable to habitation, for instance, than mountains. Climate plays a key role (the Mediterranean basin is more densely populated than the Sahara Desert or the Arctic), as does the availability of natural resources (minerals, wood, and water, for instance).
Proximity to a coastline is also a major factor: Almost half the world’s population lives within 125 miles of a shoreline, and that number is projected to double by 2025. Fourteen of the world’s 17 largest cities — 11 of them in Asia — are along seacoasts. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the benefits of coastal living include “improved transportation links, industrial and urban development, revenue from tourism, and food production.”
Even among the least densely inhabited nations, a large portion of the population lives along the coast, such as in Algeria and Guyana. Not all countries have a coastline. On our list are eight landlocked countries, a geographic impediment to economic and population growth.
Other factors that impact population density have little to do with climate or geography. For some countries on the list, population density has been constrained by extended economic downturns (Russia), political instability (Central African Republic), and prolonged armed conflicts (Sudan).
Twelve of the 30 least-crowded countries are in Africa, which is the second-fastest growing continent. The fastest-growing continent, Asia, had five countries on the list, along with South America.
To determine the world’s most- and least-crowded countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the population density of 215 countries with data from the World Bank. Data on population and land area also came from the institution. Population density and land area was converted from square kilometers to square miles. The measurement for land area includes a country’s total geographic area, minus the area of inland water bodies, such as major rivers and lakes. Population change was calculated using World Bank population estimates for 1990 and 2017. All data are for the most recent year available.