The world has been urbanizing rapidly in recent decades. In 1950, only 30 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, a proportion that grew to 55 percent by 2018. The global urbanization rate masks important differences in urbanization levels across geographic regions.

Northern America is the most urbanized region, with 82 percent of its population residing in urban areas, whereas Asia is approximately 50 percent urban, and Africa remains mostly rural with 43 percent of its population living in urban areas in 2018 (United Nations, 2018).

The maps below show the share of the population which live in urban versus rural areas. Here, “majority urban” indicates more than 50 percent of the population live in urban centers; “majority rural” indicates less than 50 percent. Urban populations are defined based on the definition of urban areas by national statistical offices. This is based on estimates to 2016, combined with UN projections to 2050.

The recent history of urbanization

Urbanization of the world - 1950
Urban vs Rural majority by countries – 1950. The majority of the people were living in rural areas back then.
Urbanization of the world - 2000
Urban vs Rural majority by countries – 2000. In most countries, the majority of people living in urban areas. But because of countries like Pakistan, India, and China, the majority of the world’s population were still living in rural areas.
Urbanization of the world - 2018
Urban vs Rural majority by countries – 2018. 55 percent of people living in urban areas.
Urbanization of the world - 2050
Urban vs Rural majority by countries – 2050
An aerial view of Tokyo
Once a small fishing village named Edo, Tokyo, the capital of Japan is the most populous city in the world (by the metropolitan area). As of July 2016, the population of Tokyo’s metropolitan area is 37,800,000. It has also the world’s largest urban agglomeration economy.


M. Özgür Nevres

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