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Population Distribution

Geographical distribution of people, including population characteristics.

Why is this theme fundamental?
It’s vital to understand the spatial distribution of the population and its characteristics, as well as how population impacts urbanisation, regional development or sustainability. More than half of the world’s population already lives in urban areas, while the remaining rural population increasingly depends on urban centres for social and economic progress. The theme supports policies to improve and create sustainable rural and urban living conditions. Some populations are transitory as a result of mass immigration, refuge, or displacement by large natural disasters or war. It’s important to understand how policy and programmes impact migration and population growth, as well as economic activity, social well-being, and quality of life.

Which sustainable development goals (SDGs) will it help to meet?
Population distribution is relevant to all of the SDGs, whether related to people or the environment

Geospatial data features in more detail
There are two relevant types of population: 1) where people live, and 2) where people are at a given time. Usually this is expressed as a count of people within an area unit such as a census tabulation area, or an estimate within a city, postal code area, country, state or province. Recently, several global ‘gridded population’ footprint estimates have been created, which specifically estimate where people are located and where there are no people. Ideally 5-year age cohorts by gender would exist globally, which allow for groupings to include specific at-risk populations, such as elderly, family composition, children, indigenous population, immigrant/ethnic origin, and education. In the absence of such detailed cohorts, estimates of these at-risk populations are needed. Additional demographics include rates of employment, personal income, household income, and living conditions, i.e., the types of materials used for dwelling units.

Possible sources of data
  • United Nations Population Division, and individual country census agencies;
  • National Statistical Institutes;
  • Commercial providers include: Michael Bauer Research GmbH, Environics, Esri, and Facebook;
  • Other potential providers include: The European Union’s Joint Research Commission; Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia University; NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC); Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Landscan products); and,

Existing Data Standards
Note: This is indicative. Other lists of standards exist and UN-GGIM will seek to work with thematic experts to develop a list of relevant data standards.
  • U.N. Demographic manuals;
  • ISO: 18391:2016; and,
  • INSPIRE data specification on Population Distribution.