The ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle were big fans of city-states, by definition modest in size — like their hometown of Athens –, because they felt the most reasonable and virtuous governing systems originate from citizens who are directly acquainted with each other. This perception that all (good) politics is local was echoed by the founders of the United States who lauded federalism because they felt states adhered to this classical ideal that, when it comes to governing, smaller is better.
Smaller populations do tend to have shared values and experiences, which helps make them more governable and content — especially if they’re relatively rich on a per-capita basis. An oft-cited example is Norway, with 5.5 million mostly ethnically similar people living on 149,000 square miles. It’s easy to see why a small and wealthy capitalist democracy with a strong socialist safety net would be home to what the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has described as some of the world’s happiest people. (These are the richest countries in the world.)
Countries and territories with tiny populations and limited land size might be easier to govern and, generally speaking, have more content populations, but what they get in manageability they lose in military and economic muscle — even though a number remain dependent territories of larger countries, vestiges of their colonial pasts.
Tiny countries and territories depend on fewer revenue-generating channels. Some micro-countries provide offshore tax-haven services to wealthy individuals and corporations. Many are islands that rely heavily on tourism. (Small islands around the world are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming. These are 20 islands that will disappear in your lifetime.)
To identify the least populated states in the world, 24/7 Tempo reviewed social and economic data for 232 states and territories — including member states, non-member states, non-self-governing member states, and official designated areas — recognized by the United Nations from from World Population Prospects 2019, published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.