Population density has become something of a hot topic during the pandemic we continue to live through with many direct links drawn between it and covid-19 transmission rates. In this post, we’re going to look at the world’s ten most densely populated countries according to the latest population figures.
Note that for the purpose of the article, we are defining a country as any fully sovereign state – no matter how big or small. This is why Monaco and Singapore feature but there is no mention of Macau, Hong Kong or Gibraltar – all of which are dependencies or special territories of other countries. All three would have ranked in the top 5 and the Chinese special administrative region of Macau would have topped the list had it been included.
The Top 5 Most Densely Populated Countries
1. Monaco – 49,107 people/square mile
Way out in front, as the world’s most densely populated ‘country’ is Monaco. Officially a principality, this playground for the rich and famous covers a tiny area of less than one square mile on the French Riviera. However just under 40,000 people are crammed into that small space and the number frequently grows further when major events are on such as the Monaco Grand Prix.
Its popularity with the rich, largely comes due to its tax haven reputation. There are no income taxes and low business tax rates and while the association with France is clearly strong, Monaco is a fully sovereign micro-state. The majority of its residents do come from overseas although there are almost 10,000 Monégasque nationals.
2. Singapore – 7,894 people/square mile
Over to Southeast Asia for another extremely densely populated city state. Close to six million people are crammed into the island nation of Singapore, a unique multiracial place with strong English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil influences.
The overcrowding has largely been overcome by building upwards into the sky. High-rise residential and commercial skyscrapers are everywhere and while some parts of town are certainly bustling with life, there is still a sense of calm to Singapore which you might not expect with nearly 8,000 people squeezed into each square mile.
It is largely seen as one of the world’s best examples of how to build a successful, thriving nation despite limited space and virtually no natural resources.
3. Bahrain – 5,136 people/square mile
The Gulf is also full of modern high-rise cities and small but thriving states. While the UAE and Qatar have larger populations, they also have large desert regions which bring their population density down. The same is not true of the tiny island nation of Bahrain, the most densely populated country in the Middle East and 3rd most in the world.
Bahrain’s population density is actually quite difficult to measure though. While every country’s population changes from year to year, due to differing birth and death rates as well as migration in and out, the actual size of a country is normally fixed. However the Bahrain government has for decades now been busy recovering land from the sea – a novel solution to overcrowding and at the last count there were 33 artificial islands centred around the main Bahrain Island where most of the country’s population lives.
4. Malta – 4,231 people/square mile
Some rundowns may choose to ignore Monaco given its unique principality status, which would in fact make Malta the most densely populated country in Europe. The popular Mediterranean holiday destination is made up of two main islands (Malta & Gozo) with the majority of the Maltese population living in the capital Valletta or its immediate surrounding urban area.
Malta’s population has swelled in recent years due to a large number of foreign people moving to the island, many of whom are drawn by its warm climate and beautiful scenery. There’s currently around 500,000 people living in Malta, with over 100,000 of those being outsiders who have moved in the last 15 years.
With a population density of over 4,000 people per square mile, finding a quiet spot in Malta is getting increasingly difficult, particularly during the summer months when large numbers of tourists arrive.
5. Maldives – 3,357 people/square mile
Another slightly surprising inclusion is the Maldives – which tends to conjure up images in the mind of picture perfect beaches rather than that of densely populated areas. Like many popular travel destinations, it does have a very different side to it and those postcard images of the country rarely feature its crowded capital Malé where over 200,000 people live on an island that is only just over three square miles large.
Located in the Indian Ocean, south of India and Sri Lanka, the Maldives is barely even visible when you look at a map or a satellite image. Its total surface area is only just over 100 square miles yet its many islands and atolls are spread over a surprisingly large area. Away from the capital, you can enjoy the feeling of having your own slice of ocean paradise, oblivious to the fact that you are technically in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Population Density by Country – The Top 10
|Population Density (People/Square Mile)
Rounding off the top ten, we have a number of other microstates and small island nations. The outliers are Lebanon and particularly Bangladesh, which have larger surface areas and populations than the others in this countdown.
While there are less than 7 million in all of the other countries in the top 10, Bangladesh, one of the world’s most populated countries, is home to a huge 170 million people who are crammed into an area of around 56,000 square miles – making it roughly the same size as the US state of Iowa and only slightly larger than England.
At the other end of the scale, Mongolia is the world’s least densely populated country, with only 5.4 people per square mile. To put that another way every person in Mongolia has over 9,000 times as much space as their counterparts in Monaco. Should it ultimately gain independence from Denmark, the incredibly sparsely populated territory of Greenland would comfortably eclipse even that with a population density of just 0.08 people per square mile.
Were we to do a countdown of the world’s most sparsely populated countries (again only allowing sovereign states), Mongolia would be joined by Namibia, Suriname, Australia, Iceland, Guyana, Libya, Canada, Mauritania and Botswana in the top 10.
This article was published in February 2021.