Population and economic development patterns


  • Population: It is the total number of people living in a given area at a given time.
  • Population distribution: It refers to the spread of a population in a given area. It could be sparsely, moderately or densely distributed.
  • Population density: It is the average number of people living in a given area per squared kilometers.

World population distribution

Credit: wikimedia.org

The pattern shows that population distribution is not uniform across the earth. Generally, most settlements are located along the coastal areas.

Dense to moderately populated areas include:

  • South – East Asia (India, China, Indonesia, Japan etc.) which accounts for about a third of the world’s total population
  • Western and parts of Central Europe (Spain, Portugal, UK, Germany)
  • West and Eastern Africa, including Southern Africa
  • Coastal parts of South America and Southern areas of N. America

Sparsely populated areas include:

  • North America(Canada, including Greenland, which part of Europe)
  • The forest and mountainous areas of South America (Amazon forest)
  • North and Central Africa (due to the Sahara and the Congo forest)
  • Northern Asia (Eastern Russia, Northern China etc)
  • Northern Australia (mostly desert)

3D mapping of the largest population density

Mapping 3d global population density spikes
Source:Visualcapitalist.com. Click here for high resolution version

Physical and human factors affecting population distribution

The factors affecting population distribution explain how population is unevenly distributed on the surface of the earth. It is important to note that one factor alone cannot determine the distribution of population in a given area, however, a combination of factors (physical and human) interact to determine the distribution.

Assignment: Discuss the ways in which the following physical and human factors may influence population distribution. Support with relevant examples from different parts of the world.

Download Factors affecting Population distribution by Mitali Verma. Use the information provided to assist you in your discussion.

Physical factors:

  • Climate
  • Relief
  • soils and vegetation
  • Natural resources

Human factors

  • Employment opportunities
  • Transport and Communication
  • Political factors
  • Cultural factors

Top 20 most populous countries in the world

Global Patterns and Classification of Economic Development

According to the World bank, a high income country (HIC) has a per capita income of over US$12,535 in 2020. The term HIC is often used interchangeably with ‘developed’ or ‘more developed’ or ‘advanced’. Low income countries are defined as those with less than US$1,036, and Middle income countries (MICs) are between US$1,036 and US$12,535. A distinction is sometime made between lower middle income countries (US$1,036-US$4,045) and Upper middle income countries (US$4,046- US$12,535). Some 5 billion people live in middle income countries, and about one-third of global GDP is produced in MICs.

GroupJuly 1, 2020 (new)July 1, 2019 (old)
Low income< 1,036< 1,026
Lower-middle income1,036 – 4,0451,026 – 3,995
Upper-middle income4,046 – 12,5353,996 – 12,375
High income> 12,535> 12,375
World Bank, 2021

World Bank classification of countries, July 2016

Source: chartsbin.com

Fewer countries than ever before, are classified as low income. The percentage of people living in LICs fell by 80% between 1994 and 2014.  In 1994, 3.1 billion people lived in 64 LICs – in 2014 just over 600 million people were living in 30 LICs. Some countries, including Bangladesh and Kenya, have moved out of the LIC category due to economic growth. Other countries – such as Malawi, have seen their GNI rise very slowly between 1994 and 2014, from US$180 to US$250. However, the income for HICs has increased massively. Norway’s income, for example, rose from US$$26, 010 to US$103, 050 during the same period.

Other countries have moved up from LIC to lower-middle income countries, such as India. In contrast, Mexico and China are upper middle income countries. Some countries moved from Upper middle income countries to HICs, including Argentina, Venezuela and Hungary.

GNI per capita is measured by dividing a country’s gross national income by its- mid-year population. Problems with data collection mean that some countries may not have accurate and reliable data.

Case study – Economic classification

At its most basic, the world can be divided into rich and poor. There is evidence to suggest that the rich are getting richer and the poor relatively poorer, but such a dichotomous (tw0-fold) classification is simplistic. Nevertheless, it is still widely used in the media and by politicians and activists, and is characterized by the use of the Brandt line or North-South Divide.

  • The First World (developed) – Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan
  • The Second World –state-controlled Communist countries such as the former Soviet Union
  • The Third World (developing) – all the other less developed countries

A more detailed way is as follows:

These categories should be considered as a continuum i.e. there is a range of development from the very least developed to the most developed, rather than an either-or dichotomy.

Most classifications of global economic groupings are related to levels of development, which is difficult to define. It suggests both economic and human development including economic growth, stable population growth, high standards of living, high levels of technology, employment, good health, adequate nutrition, literacy, high levels of GNI/capita.

More developed countries, such as UK, USA, and Japan, have high levels of these. By contrast, countries that are less developed have worse levels. The North-South divide describes the difference in wealth between the developed world and the developing world. The development gap is the increasing inequality in levels of development between the North and the South or between HICs and LICs

Adapted from Garrett Nagle Monday, July 25, 2016 Geography, IBDP Teacher Blogs

Population distribution and economic development at the national scale, including voluntary internal migration, core-periphery patterns and megacity growth

Core-Periphery Model of Development

The Core-Periphery model was developed by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974). According to him, the capitalist world system has three main characteristics:

  • A global market
  • Many countries, which allow political and economic competition
  • Three tier countries

The tiers are identified as:

  • Core (mostly MEDCs)
  • Periphery (mostly LEDCs)
  • Semi-periphery (countries with class struggle and social change e.g Latin America in the 1980s and Eastern Europe in the late 80s and 1990s)

The basic principle of the ‘Core-Periphery’ theory is that as general prosperity grows worldwide, the majority of that growth is enjoyed by a ‘core’ region of wealthy countries despite being severely outnumbered in population by those in a ‘periphery’ that are ignored. The disparity of wealth between core and periphery countries is staggering, with 15% of the global population enjoying 75% of the world’s annual income.

The diagram below summarizes the core-periphery model:

Source: Gabby Turner

The Core

The ‘core’ consists of Europe (excluding Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) , the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. Within this region is where most of the positive characteristics of globalization typically occur: transnational links, modern development (i.e. higher wages, access to healthcare, adequate food/water/shelter), scientific innovation, and increasing economic prosperity. These countries also tend to be highly industrialized and have a rapidly-growing service (tertiary) sector.

The top twenty countries ranked by the United Nations Human Development Index are all in the core. The opportunities created by these advantages perpetuate a world driven by individuals in the core. People in positions of power and influence around the world are often brought up or educated in the core (nearly 90% of world “leaders” have a degree from a Western University).

The Semi-Periphery

Between the two extremes lie the semi-peripheries. These areas represented either core regions in decline or peripheries attempting to improve their relative position in the world economic system. Good examples of declining cores that became semi-peripheries include Portugal and Spain. Other semi-peripheries at this time were Italy, southern Germany, and southern France.

Economically, these regions retained limited but declining access to international banking and the production of high-cost high-quality manufactured goods. Unlike the core, however, they failed to predominate in international trade and thus did not benefit to the same extent as the core. According to Wallerstein, the core exploited the semi-peripheries.


The ‘periphery’ consists of the countries in the rest of the world: Africa, South America, Asia (excluding Japan and South Korea), and Russia. Although some parts of this area exhibit positive development (especially Pacific Rim locations in China), it is generally characterized by extreme poverty and a low standard of living.

Health care is non-existent in many places, there is less access to potable water than in the industrialized core, and poor infrastructure endangers slum conditions. Population is skyrocketing in the periphery. Many people living in rural areas perceive opportunities in cities and take action to migrate there, even though there are not enough jobs or housing to support them.The majority of population growth around the world is occurring in the periphery.

The rural-to-urban migration and high birth rates of the periphery are creating both megacities, (urban areas with over 8 million people), and hyper cities, (urban areas with over 20 million people). These cities, such as Mexico City or Manila, have little infrastructure and feature rampant crime, massive unemployment, and a huge informal sector.

Voluntary migration

  • Migration: the movement of people from one place to another, either permanently, seasonally, voluntarily or forced. It involves a change in residence. Daily commuters are not generally considered migrants.
  • Internal Migration: Movement of people within a country. This is could be rural-urban, urban-urban, urban-rural or rural-rural migration.
  • Voluntary migration is the free movement of people from one place to another, mostly in the form of rural-urban migration). Rural-urban migration could be due to the following factors:

Lee’s Theory of Migration

Everett Lee (1966) developed the following model to explain the migration:

Lee’s Theory of Migration: Source- Unknown

According to Lee, a migrant will move when the positive (pull) factors in the area of destination exceed the negative factors, or when the negative (push) factors in the area of origin exceed the positive factors.

Between the area of origin and destination is what he termed intervening obstacles. These are challenges, problems, barriers or even existing opportunities between the origin and destination area. Examples include high cost of transportation, physical barriers like mountains or ocean, visa requirements, physical threats to a person posed by armed robbers etc. An existing opportunity could be a job opportunity that the migrant my come across on their way to the final destination.

  • Rural “Push” factors: “Push” factors are the difficulties or challenges people face in rural areas which compel them to move to the city. They include:
    • poor housing,
    • poor sanitation
    • decline in agriculture output
    • lack of educational opportunities
    • lack of employment opportunities
    • lack of social amenities,
    • Poverty/low incomes
    • Poor infrastructure like roads etc
  • Urban “Pull” factors: “Pull” factors are the conditions that attract people from villages to cities. They include:
    • better housing,
    • High paying jobs
    • access to better health care
    • access to social amenities
    • improved infrastructure
    • improved sanitation,
    • perceived job prospects,
    • ‘bright light syndrome’ etc. in urban areas.

Megacity growth

NB: This subtopic is treated in detail under Building sustainable urban systems for the future

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tokyo-rainbow-bridge-resized-e1549305936647.jpg
Tokyo: (SVP)

Megacities are cities that have a population of over 10 million. Rapid urbanization has resulted in the rapid development of megacities. In 1950, less than 30% of the world’s population lived in cities.

In 2008, the UN claimed that 74% of the world’s population lived in towns and cities in HICs and 45% in LICs. In 1900, the only mega cities in the world were London and Paris. Today, the number of megacities have increased with Tokyo having about 35m people as at 2000 (as at 2016 Tokyo has a population of above 30 million.) Whilst urbanization is slowing down in HICs (rate of 1.5% pa) it is rapidly increasing in LICs, esp China at a rate of 4-5% p.a. List of world’s top 20 cities

By 2017, other mega cities include Mumbai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, New York, Jakarta, Delhi, and Lagos. Urbanization comes with environmental (pollution) and social problems (crime and dev’t of slums). But it is also important for wealth generation – about 80% of economic output is generated from urban areas in HICs. By 2030, it is estimated that about 60% of the world’s total population will be living in cities.  This growth is mostly taking place in LICs.

General trends in the growth of mega cities:
• The largest cities are in South-East Asia and Latin America.
• The fastest growing cities are in S.E. Asia mostly due to migration
• The rate of grow of cities in HICs slowed in the 2nd half of 20th Cent. But picked up again due to migration
• In China, most large cities are along the coastal areas.
Read Integrated Approach by David Waugh, page 419 for details.

The two most populous countries, China and India, are leading with the growth of megacities. New citizens are joining Delhi at a rate of 79 people per hour, while Shanghai continues to welcome 51 new citizens an hour.

The map below shows an animation of the most populous cities in the world.

Source: Visual Capitalist

Reasons for such rapid increase in the number of megacities include:

  • Economic growth, as a result of industrialization leading to an increase in demand for labor in mines and manufacturing sectors.
  • Natural increase due to the youthful nature of urban population resulting in high birth rates
  • Rural Urban Migration, especially in LICs.

3 replies on “Population and economic development patterns”

I went to so many site looking for such and find none easily accessible.

Thanks a lot it was of great help. It will be best if we can have a PDF or questions and solutions on each in geography topic.

God bless you


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