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This amazing GIF shows 300 years of global population shifts

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Over the past 200 years, the global population has changed dramatically, in terms of both pure numbers and where populations are growing — and how quickly. This has massive implications for global politics, but can be hard to appreciate abstractly — which is why the following GIF mapping the changes, from Microcosm's Max Galka, is so interesting.

Galka took a standard map projection, then readjusted the size of each continent to match the percentage of the global population that lives there. The GIF shows what that looked like in 1800, 1900, and 2000, plus, according to United Nations projections, what it will look like in 2100:

(Max Galka/Microcosm)

There's a lot of information packed in there. But a few standout points:

  • Europe is a small continent, in geographic terms, but held a significant percentage of the global population in 1800 and 1900. This was a result of multiple factors, including agricultural developments and urbanization, which help explain Europe's disproportionate power during those eras.
  • Between 1900 and 2000, the size of the global population skyrocketed (from 1.7 to 6.1 billion), mostly in the developing world — Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. This reflects huge victories in global development and the spread of economic growth and technology previously reserved for Europe and North America. Once again, this has geopolitical significance: Being larger and richer gives countries more resources to draw on in international politics. We're talking about the rise of countries like China and India today for a reason.
  • North America is pretty underpopulated relative to its size, though the US and Mexico are still among the world's most populous countries.
  • If the UN projections are right, then Africa will quadruple in population by 2100, nearly matching Asia. This is due to high birthrates in much of Africa, along with improvements in longevity and child mortality, and a slowdown in birth rates in places such as China and Japan. It's impossible to say for sure how this will change world politics; in all likelihood, I'll be dead by the time we find out anyway. But it does suggest that African states will likely play a much more significant role in global (rather than continental) politics.

There's a lot more analysis of the data over at Microcosm, including some really interesting charts of long-term population trends.

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