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.

RankCountryPopulation density
1Antarctica0
2Greenland0.03
3Svalbard0.04
4Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)0.26
5Pitcairn Islands1.15
6Mongolia1.96
7Western Sahara2.27
8Australia3.00
9Namibia3.01
10Iceland3.30
11Guyana3.43
12Canada3.57
13Suriname3.61
14Mauritania3.65
15Libya3.78
16Botswana3.81
17Niue6.22
18Gabon6.62
19Kazakhstan6.81
20Russia8.32
21Central African Republic9.03
22Chad9.40
23Bolivia10.14
24Turkmenistan10.96
25Oman11.06
26Saudi Arabia13.29
27Mali14.42
28Congo, Republic of the14.49
29Papua New Guinea14.93
30New Caledonia15.02
31Niger15.19
32Belize15.69
33Argentina15.93
34Finland16.32
35Christmas Island16.33
36Norway16.43
37New Zealand16.78
38Paraguay17.07
39Algeria17.20
40Somalia17.30
41Uruguay19.07
42Bhutan19.75
43Saint Helena19.87
44Sudan20.06
45South Sudan20.22
46Sweden22.12
47Solomon Islands22.41
48Saint Pierre and Miquelon22.86
49Vanuatu23.20
50Angola23.51
51Chile23.53
52Bahamas, The23.77
53Peru24.15
54Brazil24.35
55Estonia27.67
56Equatorial Guinea27.75
57Kyrgyzstan28.95
58Laos30.10
59Latvia30.11
60United States33.22
61Mozambique33.24
62Venezuela34.32
63Zimbabwe35.33
64Congo, Democratic Republic of the35.53
65Faroe Islands36.42
66Djibouti37.30
67Cook Islands39.36
68Colombia41.88
69Liberia42.10
70Cocos (Keeling) Islands42.57
71Madagascar42.68
72Lithuania43.24
73South Africa44.99
74Belarus46.00
75Nicaragua46.22
76Montenegro46.52
77Palau46.69
78Norfolk Island48.56
79Guinea-Bissau49.61
80Panama49.76
81Iran49.76
82Eritrea50.33
83Fiji50.40
84Guinea50.49
85Montserrat51.88
86Afghanistan52.32
87Cameroon52.57
88Yemen53.10
89Turks and Caicos Islands55.45
90Virgin Islands56.16
91Tanzania56.95
92Ecuador57.45
93Tajikistan58.77
94Mexico63.42
95Bulgaria64.05
96Lesotho64.50
97Uzbekistan66.49
98French Polynesia69.09
99Tunisia69.70
100Georgia70.68
101Samoa70.68
102Ireland71.31
103United Arab Emirates72.64
104Ukraine72.96
105Burkina Faso73.33
106Senegal74.56
107Cote d'Ivoire75.00
108Bosnia and Herzegovina75.32
109Croatia75.84
110Morocco76.11
111Brunei76.95
112Honduras80.64
113Burma81.47
114Greece81.61
115Macedonia81.82
116Kenya82.04
117Swaziland84.49
118Sierra Leone85.91
119East Timor86.82
120Iraq89.41
121Cambodia89.51
122Romania90.31
123Serbia91.79
124Malaysia95.14
125Ethiopia95.40
126Costa Rica96.48
127Spain96.88
128Egypt96.90
129Slovenia97.28
130Syria97.36
131Benin98.02
132Dominica98.40
133Cuba100.55
134Armenia102.38
135Moldova102.63
136Turkey103.18
137France104.23
138Austria104.38
139Hungary105.89
140Albania106.02
141Tokelau107.08
142Wallis and Futuna110.66
143Slovakia111.06
144Northern Mariana Islands112.64
145Jordan114.71
146Azerbaijan115.03
147Ghana115.29
148Portugal117.71
149Poland123.05
150Denmark130.09
151Thailand133.33
152Kiribati133.35
153Czech Republic135.00
154Indonesia136.82
155Cape Verde139.08
156Togo140.27
157Guatemala141.99
158Tonga142.54
159China143.72
160Micronesia, Federated States of148.43
161Isle of Man155.27
162Kuwait161.38
163Malawi162.02
164Uganda164.17
165Andorra164.46
166Kosovo174.08
167Gambia, The181.54
168Paracel Islands185.81
169Anguilla187.77
170Switzerland199.54
171Nepal199.65
172Qatar199.75
173Saint Kitts and Nevis201.97
174Italy206.20
175Nigeria206.36
176Seychelles206.42
177Sao Tome and Principe208.53
178Korea, North209.46
179Antigua and Barbuda214.03
180Dominican Republic220.55
181Cayman Islands221.37
182Germany225.74
183Luxembourg229.75
184British Virgin Islands231.89
185Trinidad and Tobago237.56
186Liechtenstein239.02
187Pakistan257.41
188American Samoa258.81
189Saint Vincent and the Grenadines262.44
190United Kingdom265.87
191Saint Lucia267.85
192Jamaica272.09
193Saint Barthelemy287.36
194Vietnam290.33
195El Salvador293.33
196Guam307.64
197Grenada324.78
198Japan334.60
199Curacao337.05
200Sri Lanka341.55
201Philippines347.52
202Comoros361.56
203Puerto Rico368.17
204Belgium376.42
205Haiti383.67
206India389.97
207Israel399.60
208Netherlands411.25
209Marshall Islands411.82
210Burundi412.03
211Tuvalu425.08
212Rwanda451.88
213West Bank468.93
214Korea, South513.25
215Nauru540.90
216San Marino549.79
217Saint Martin590.53
218Lebanon599.02
219Aruba639.56
220Taiwan653.37
221Mauritius664.90
222Barbados679.85
223Jersey852.07
224Guernsey852.59
225Bangladesh1063.09
226Sint Maarten1237.74
227Bermuda1312.30
228Malta1317.53
229Maldives1317.82
230Bahrain1856.50
231Holy See (Vatican City)2272.73
232Gibraltar4522.46
233Gaza Strip4986.62
234Hong Kong6490.53
235Singapore8188.16
236Monaco15322.50
237Macau21346.42

(Source: CIA World Factbook)

Lead image: Atlas & Boots

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