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Population density (in agriculture: standing stock and standing crop) is a measurement of population per unit area, or exceptionally unit volume; it is a quantity of type number density. It is frequently applied to living organisms, and most of the time to humans. It is a key geographical term.[1] In simple terms population density refers to the number of people living in an area per kilometer square.

Biological population densities


Population density is population divided by total land area or water volume, as appropriate.[1]

Low densities may cause an extinction vortex and lead to further reduced fertility. This is called the Allee effect after the scientist who identified it. Examples of the causes of reduced fertility in low population densities are:[2]

  • Increased problems with locating sexual mates
  • Increased inbreeding

For humans, population density is the number of people per unit of area, usually quoted per square kilometer or square mile (which may include or exclude, for example, areas of water or glaciers). Commonly this may be calculated for a county, city, country, another territory or the entire world.

The world's population is around 7,500,000,000[3] and Earth's total area (including land and water) is 510,000,000 square kilometers (197,000,000 sq. mi.).[4] Therefore, the worldwide human population density is around 7,500,000,000 ÷ 510,000,000 = 14.7 per km2 (38 per sq. mi). If only the Earth's land area of 150,000,000 km2 (58,000,000 sq. mi.) is taken into account, then human population density is 50 per km2 (129 per sq. mile). This includes all continental and island land area, including Antarctica. If Antarctica is also excluded, then population density rises to over 55 people per km2 (over 142 per sq. mile).[1] However, over half of the Earth's land mass consists of areas inhospitable to human habitation, such as deserts and high mountains, and population tends to cluster around seaports and fresh-water sources. Thus, additional criteria are needed to make simple population density values useful.

Several of the most densely populated territories in the world are city-states, microstates and urban dependencies.[5][6] These territories have a relatively small area and a high urbanization level, with an economically specialized city population drawing also on rural resources outside the area, illustrating the difference between high population density and overpopulation.

Deserts have very limited potential for growing crops, as there is not enough rain to support them. Thus their population density is generally low. However some cities in the Middle East, such as Dubai, have been increasing in population and infrastructure growth at a fast pace.[7]

Cities with high population densities are, by some, considered to be overpopulated, though this will depend on factors like quality of housing and infrastructure and access to resources.[8] Most of the most densely populated cities are in Southeast Asia, though Cairo and Lagos in Africa also fall into this category.[9]

City population and especially area are, however, heavily dependent on the definition of "urban area" used: densities are almost invariably higher for the central city area than when suburban settlements and the intervening rural areas are included, as in the areas of agglomeration or metropolitan area, the latter sometimes including neighboring cities.

In comparison, based on a world population of seven billion, the world's inhabitants, as a loose crowd taking up ten square feet (one square metre) per person (Jacobs Method), would occupy a space a little larger than Delaware's land area.

Although arithmetic density is the most common way of measuring population density, several other methods have been developed to provide a more accurate measure of population density over a specific area.

  • Arithmetic density: The total number of people / area of land (measured in square miles or square kilometers)
  • Physiological density: The total population / area of arable land
  • Agricultural density: The total rural population / area of arable land
  • Residential density: The number of people living in an urban area / area of residential land
  • Urban density: The number of people inhabiting an urban area / total area of urban land
  • Ecological optimum: The density of population that can be supported by the natural resources

See also


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