Urban population trends

Posted: 26 January 2008

In 2008, for the first time, half the world's population is living in towns and cities. By 2030, the urban population will reach 5 billion - 60 per cent of the world's population (see graph). Nearly all population growth will be in the cities of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 4 billion by 2030 - about the size of the developing world's total population in 1990.


Urban & rural population
Urban & rural population
Urban & rural population of the world, 1950-2030. Source: UN Population Division. Click on image for full-size graph
World Urbanization Prospects: the 2005 Revision, prepared by the United Nations Population Division, presents estimates and projections of the number of people living in urban and rural areas for the period 1950-2030. Some of its key findings are as follows:


  • Most of the population increase expected during 2005-2030 will be absorbed by the urban areas of the less developed regions whose population will likely rise from 1.9 billion in 2000 to nearly 4 billion in 2030. The urban population of the more developed regions is expected to increase very slowly, passing from 0.9 billion in 2005 to 1 billion in 2030.
  • During 2005-2030, the world's urban population will grow at an average annual rate of 1.8 per cent, nearly double the rate expected for the total population of the world (1 per cent per year). At that rate of growth, the world's urban population will double in 38 years.
  • Growth will be particularly rapid in the urban areas of less developed regions, averaging 2.2 per cent per year during 2005-2030, consistent with a doubling time of 30 years. In contrast, the rural population of the less developed regions is expected to grow very slowly, at just 0.1 per cent per year during 2000-2030.
  • The rapid increase of the world's urban population coupled with the slowing growth of the rural population has led to a major redistribution of the population. Thus, whereas in 1950, 30 per cent of the world population lived in urban areas, by 2000 the proportion of urban dwellers had risen to 47 per cent and is expected to reach 60 per cent by 2030. The number of urban dwellers will for the first time have overtaken the number of rural dwellers in the world in 2008.
  • There are marked differences in the level and pace of urbanization among less developed regions. Latin America and the Caribbean is highly urbanized, with 77 per cent of its population living in cities in 2000. Asia and Africa are considerably less urbanized, both with around 39 per cent of their populations living in urban areas. Being less urbanized, Africa and Asia are expected to experience rapid rates of urbanization during 2000-2030. Consequently, by 2030, 54 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively, of their inhabitants will live in urban areas. At that time, 85 per cent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean will be urban.
  • In Europe and Northern America, the percentage of the population living in urban areas is expected to rise from 73 per cent and 79 per cent, respectively, in 2000 to 80 per cent and 87 per cent in 2030. The increase in Oceania is likely to be smaller, from 73 per cent in 2000 to 75 per cent in 2030.
  • Despite their high levels of urbanization, the combined number of urban dwellers in 2003 in Europe, Northern America, Latin America and the Caribbean (1.2 billion) is not as high as that in Asia (1.4 billion), the least urbanized major area of the world today. Furthermore, by 2030, Asia and Africa will both have higher numbers of urban dwellers than any other major area of the world.
  • Asia also has and is expected to have the largest rural population of the world during 2000-2030, amounting to 2.3 billion persons today. Africa, with 521 million rural inhabitants in 2003, is expected to see its rural population rise to 650 million by 2030, remaining the second largest during the period. Except for Africa and Oceania, all major areas are expected to experience a reduction of the rural population between 2000 and 2030.
  • As a consequence of regional trends, the world's rural population will remain nearly stable during 2000-2030, falling only from 3.21 billion to 3.19 billion.
  • In terms of population size, Tokyo was the largest urban agglomeration in the world in 2005, with 35 million residents (the Tokyo estimate has been raised considerably in the latest estimates due to a new definition of metropolitan area). Tokyo is expected to remain the largest metropolis although its population will not grow substantially. It is followed today by Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo and Mumbai (Bombay). Of these cities, Mumbai is expected to become the second largest mega-city in 2015 with a population of 22 million, followed by Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Delhi.