least densely populated countries feat image

Crowd control: the world’s least densely populated countries

Are those living in the world’s least densely populated countries happier than those living in more crowded ones? 

Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world. As with previous years, it is clear that developed, conflict-free nations with stable governments tend to rank higher in these indexes.

What’s interesting is that many of the world’s happiest countries also have relatively low population density. Finland, Norway, Iceland, CanadaNew Zealand and Australia all have fewer than 20 people per square kilometre (followed closely by Sweden with 22.12), and all appear in the top 10 happiest countries.

These countries also offer access to nature and large tracts of wilderness. Likewise, there seems to be a correlation between the happiest countries and the greenest countries in the world – 15 countries appear in the top 20 of both lists.

world’s least densely populated countries mappedAtlas & Boots

Seven of the ten happiest countries in the world have fewer than 23 people per sq km

Personally, I wonder if many of the world’s problems (loss of wilderness, global warming, pollution and lack of social mobility to name but a few) could be addressed by lowering global population.

How much is too much?

We’ve written before about how the world is not necessarily getting better. Basic education, literacy, democracy and vaccination may all be improving for humans, but for everything else – the millions of species that also call Earth their home – the world is getting worse.

In 2012, a UN report summarised 65 different estimates of a maximum sustainable population on Earth. The most common estimate was eight billion, just a little higher than the current 7.6 billion people on Earth. Simply put, the world is almost too crowded already.

Population growth has been slowing since the 1960s and UN data patterns show that, globally, the fertility rate per woman has fallen from 4.7 children in 1970-75 to 2.6 in 2005-10, but do we need to speed up the decline?

The UN says that a relatively easy way to achieve this would be to raise the status of women, especially in terms of education and employment opportunities. In 2016, the UN Population Fund calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries in the world did not want their last child, but did not have the means to prevent the pregnancy.

If these women had more control over family planning, it would significantly affect global population trends. According to this hypothesis, creating a sustainable population is essentially about improving women’s rights.

A global two-child policy?

There is also a campaign to implement a global two-child policy. Populution.org believes that those having more than two children are the largest polluters on Earth. It suggest that the way to fix Earth’s population problem is for people to have only two children or fewer.

Populution.org says that those who have fewer children are greener

The campaign goes even further to suggest that those who have five or more children are “environmental terrorists”. This sort of emotive language isn’t helpful, but it’s no giant leap to suggest that the happiest countries in the world are some of the least densely populated, as well as the greenest.

Can the solution really be this simple? Have fewer children and the world will be happier, greener, better? I can see the logic of this argument, but could never imagine a two-child policy being adopted – or enforced – on a global scale. Instead, I hope that empowering women will naturally speed up the decline.

Ranking the least densely populated countries

The approaching UN World Population Day aims to highlight issues around population and their relation to the environment and development. With this in mind, we thought it pertinent to rank the world’s least densely populated countries (and dependent territories) based on the number of people per square kilometre.

LeastMostCountryPopulation density
1237Antarctica0
2236Greenland0.03
3235Svalbard0.04
4234Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)0.26
5233Pitcairn Islands1.15
6232Mongolia1.96
7231Western Sahara2.27
8230Australia3
9229Namibia3.01
10228Iceland3.3
11227Guyana3.43
12226Canada3.57
13225Suriname3.61
14224Mauritania3.65
15223Libya3.78
16222Botswana3.81
17221Niue6.22
18220Gabon6.62
19219Kazakhstan6.81
20218Russia8.32
21217Central African Republic9.03
22216Chad9.4
23215Bolivia10.14
24214Turkmenistan10.96
25213Oman11.06
26212Saudi Arabia13.29
27211Mali14.42
28210Congo, Republic of the14.49
29209Papua New Guinea14.93
30208New Caledonia15.02
31207Niger15.19
32206Belize15.69
33205Argentina15.93
34204Finland16.32
35203Christmas Island16.33
36202Norway16.43
37201New Zealand16.78
38200Paraguay17.07
39199Algeria17.2
40198Somalia17.3
41197Uruguay19.07
42196Bhutan19.75
43195Saint Helena19.87
44194Sudan20.06
45193South Sudan20.22
46192Sweden22.12
47191Solomon Islands22.41
48190Saint Pierre and Miquelon22.86
49189Vanuatu23.2
50188Angola23.51
51187Chile23.53
52186Bahamas, The23.77
53185Peru24.15
54184Brazil24.35
55183Estonia27.67
56182Equatorial Guinea27.75
57181Kyrgyzstan28.95
58180Laos30.1
59179Latvia30.11
60178United States33.22
61177Mozambique33.24
62176Venezuela34.32
63175Zimbabwe35.33
64174Congo, Democratic Republic of the35.53
65173Faroe Islands36.42
66172Djibouti37.3
67171Cook Islands39.36
68170Colombia41.88
69169Liberia42.1
70168Cocos (Keeling) Islands42.57
71167Madagascar42.68
72166Lithuania43.24
73165South Africa44.99
74164Belarus46
75163Nicaragua46.22
76162Montenegro46.52
77161Palau46.69
78160Norfolk Island48.56
79159Guinea-Bissau49.61
80158Panama49.76
81157Iran49.76
82156Eritrea50.33
83155Fiji50.4
84154Guinea50.49
85153Montserrat51.88
86152Afghanistan52.32
87151Cameroon52.57
88150Yemen53.1
89149Turks and Caicos Islands55.45
90148Virgin Islands56.16
91147Tanzania56.95
92146Ecuador57.45
93145Tajikistan58.77
94144Mexico63.42
95143Bulgaria64.05
96142Lesotho64.5
97141Uzbekistan66.49
98140French Polynesia69.09
99139Tunisia69.7
100138Georgia70.68
101137Samoa70.68
102136Ireland71.31
103135United Arab Emirates72.64
104134Ukraine72.96
105133Burkina Faso73.33
106132Senegal74.56
107131Cote d'Ivoire75
108130Bosnia and Herzegovina75.32
109129Croatia75.84
110128Morocco76.11
111127Brunei76.95
112126Honduras80.64
113125Burma81.47
114124Greece81.61
115123Macedonia81.82
116122Kenya82.04
117121Swaziland84.49
118120Sierra Leone85.91
119119East Timor86.82
120118Iraq89.41
121117Cambodia89.51
122116Romania90.31
123115Serbia91.79
124114Malaysia95.14
125113Ethiopia95.4
126112Costa Rica96.48
127111Spain96.88
128110Egypt96.9
129109Slovenia97.28
130108Syria97.36
131107Benin98.02
132106Dominica98.4
133105Cuba100.55
134104Armenia102.38
135103Moldova102.63
136102Turkey103.18
137101France104.23
138100Austria104.38
13999Hungary105.89
14098Albania106.02
14197Tokelau107.08
14296Wallis and Futuna110.66
14395Slovakia111.06
14494Northern Mariana Islands112.64
14593Jordan114.71
14692Azerbaijan115.03
14791Ghana115.29
14890Portugal117.71
14989Poland123.05
15088Denmark130.09
15187Thailand133.33
15286Kiribati133.35
15385Czech Republic135
15484Indonesia136.82
15583Cape Verde139.08
15682Togo140.27
15781Guatemala141.99
15880Tonga142.54
15979China143.72
16078Micronesia, Federated States of148.43
16177Isle of Man155.27
16276Kuwait161.38
16375Malawi162.02
16474Uganda164.17
16573Andorra164.46
16672Kosovo174.08
16771Gambia, The181.54
16870Paracel Islands185.81
16969Anguilla187.77
17068Switzerland199.54
17167Nepal199.65
17266Qatar199.75
17365Saint Kitts and Nevis201.97
17464Italy206.2
17563Nigeria206.36
17662Seychelles206.42
17761Sao Tome and Principe208.53
17860Korea, North209.46
17959Antigua and Barbuda214.03
18058Dominican Republic220.55
18157Cayman Islands221.37
18256Germany225.74
18355Luxembourg229.75
18454British Virgin Islands231.89
18553Trinidad and Tobago237.56
18652Liechtenstein239.02
18751Pakistan257.41
18850American Samoa258.81
18949Saint Vincent and the Grenadines262.44
19048United Kingdom265.87
19147Saint Lucia267.85
19246Jamaica272.09
19345Saint Barthelemy287.36
19444Vietnam290.33
19543El Salvador293.33
19642Guam307.64
19741Grenada324.78
19840Japan334.6
19939Curacao337.05
20038Sri Lanka341.55
20137Philippines347.52
20236Comoros361.56
20335Puerto Rico368.17
20434Belgium376.42
20533Haiti383.67
20632India389.97
20731Israel399.6
20830Netherlands411.25
20929Marshall Islands411.82
21028Burundi412.03
21127Tuvalu425.08
21226Rwanda451.88
21325West Bank468.93
21424Korea, South513.25
21523Nauru540.9
21622San Marino549.79
21721Saint Martin590.53
21820Lebanon599.02
21919Aruba639.56
22018Taiwan653.37
22117Mauritius664.9
22216Barbados679.85
22315Jersey852.07
22414Guernsey852.59
22513Bangladesh1063.09
22612Sint Maarten1237.74
22711Bermuda1312.3
22810Malta1317.53
2299Maldives1317.82
2308Bahrain1856.5
2317Holy See (Vatican City)2272.73
2326Gibraltar4522.46
2335Gaza Strip4986.62
2344Hong Kong6490.53
2353Singapore8188.16
2362Monaco15322.5
2371Macau21346.42

(Source: CIA World Factbook)

Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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