Q18 – Population map today

This question was asked to the public in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and the UK in the Sustainable Development Misconception Study 2020

In December 2020 Gapminder launches a brand new service for upgrading your worldview, where you will be able to take this (and many other) tests and become certified gapm.io/upgrader


There are roughly eight billion people in the world today. Which map best shows where they live? (Each figure represents 1 billion people.)


Correct answer

About 5 billion people live in Asia, and only 1 billion in each of Europe, Africa and the Americas.

We underestimate Asia

Many people who have strong opinions about globalization, natural resources or population growth still fail to keep track of where people live on the world map. People don’t realize that most things are happening in Asia. 

The easiest way to remember where people live is the PINcode of the world: 1 1 1 5.

These numbers help you remember from left to right, how many billions live in each of the four regions. Memorizing this code helps with lots of global proportions, like where most Internet users come from and where most shoes are bought. The correct answer is often Asia, because that’s where most people live. 

The four regions used in these maps are roughly the same size, but the number of people in Asia is about 5 billion, compared to around 1 billion in each of the other regions (these numbers are rounded). 

Most people are wrong about this. Those who wrongly guessed there are 2 billion people living in Africa have probably seen images of crowded African cities. They don’t realize that many rural areas in Africa are sparsely populated. Those who think the Americas have 2 billion people, probably watch lots of media from the US, a country that is talked about a lot, but with a population that is only 4% of the world population. 

Data sources

This data comes from the UN’s World Population Prospects 2019[1]. Gapminder has divided the world into four regions of almost equal landmass. We then rounded the numbers for each of these regions to get what we call the PINcode of the world: 1115 [2]. That is 1 billion people in the Americas, 1 billion in Europe, 1 billion in Africa and 5 billion in Asia. 

The actual numbers are: The Americas: 1.0 billion; Africa: 1.3 billion; Europe: 0.85 billion; Asia: 4.6 billion.
The UN’s population data is mainly based on census data. 80% of the world’s countries had census data from the last 10 years. There are some uncertainties in the data for different countries depending on whether citizens or inhabitants are counted, but none of these uncertainties are large enough to influence which of the maps we show is the correct answer.

Source 1 – UN World Population Prospects 2019

Source 2 – Gapminder’s PINcode of the world