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close this bookBasic Facts on Urbanization (HABITAT, 2001, 21 p.)
View the documentAbout
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentGeneral Demographic Trends
View the documentThe Growth of Large Cities
View the documentThe Economics of Cities
View the documentUrbanization and Feminization of Poverty
View the documentThe Challenge of Adequate Housing
View the documentHomelessness
View the documentUrban Violence
View the documentEnvironmental Deterioration
View the documentAccess to Services and Basic Infrastructure
View the documentChildren in the Urban World
View the documentSustainable Urban Development
View the documentGlobal Campaigns on Security of Tenure and Urban Governance
View the documentNotes
View the documentList of References

General Demographic Trends

The latter half of the twentieth century has seen the continuous transformation of the world's population into urban dwellers. The urban population has increased from less than 30 per cent of the total in 1950 (see table 1). By the year 2006, more than half of humankind will live in urban areas. Two decades from now, in 2020, about 57 per cent of the world's population will live in urban areas.

Table 1. Urban population and level of urbanization, by region (1980-2020)

Region(4)

Urban population
(millions)

Urban population
(per cent of total population)


1980

2000

2020

1980

2000

2020

Industrial countries

803

946

1,054

70.3

74.7

79.8


High-income economies

574

667

747

75.5

78.3

82.9


Transitional economies

229

279

307

59.9

67.1

73.4

Developing countries

951

1,944

3,293

28.8

40.3

51.8


Latin America & Caribbean

233

388

534

64.9

75.4

81.0


Sub-Saharan Africa

84

217

487

23.3

34.3

46.2


North Africa & Middle East

93

211

357

44.1

59.9

69.8


Asia & Pacific

541

1,128

1,916

22.8

33.9

46.4



India

159

286

499

23.1

28.4

39.2



China

201

445

719

20.0

34.7

49.4



Rest of Asia & Pacific

181

397

698

26.6

38.4

49.9

World total

1,754

2,890

4,347

39.4

47.4

56.7

Source: United Nations, 1996c.

An increasing share of the world's population live in urban areas of developing countries. Two decades ago the population of developing countries was predominantly rural. Less than 29 per cent lived in urban areas. By the year 2000, this figure will have reached 40 per cent. Two decades from now, some 52 per cent of the population of developing countries will live in urban areas (see table 1). Nearly half of the world's urban population lived in industrial countries in 1980. By the year 2000, two-thirds of all urban dwellers live in developing countries. By 2020, the figure will have increased to more than three-quarters of all urban dwellers.

Figure 1 provides an even more striking illustration of the fact that we live in an urbanizing world. Before the 1980s, the absolute population growth in rural areas of developing countries accounted for more than half of global population growth. Today, three-quarters of the growth occurs in the urban areas of developing countries. The average annual population increase in the urban areas of developing countries during the first decade of the new millennium is projected to about 64 million (i.e. more than 175,000 each day). The next decades will see a further strengthening of this trend. In fact, as rural populations are projected to contract by 2020, urban population growth is expected to account for more than 100 per cent of the world's total net growth. During the 2020s it is projected that some 77 million persons will be added to the world's urban population each year. The vast bulk of this growth, some 74 million, will occur in developing countries.

Urban settlements in the developing countries are, at present, growing at rates five times faster than those in the industrial countries (see table 2). While urban growth rates are projected to decline in all regions of the world, growth rates in developing countries are expected to remain at a level five times higher than that of industrial countries.

Table 2. Rate of urbanization, by region (1980-2020)

Region(4)

Average annual urban population growth
(per cent)

Average annual urban population increase
(millions)


1980-1990

1990-2000

2000-2010

2010-2020

1980-1990

1990-2000

2000-2010

2010-2020

Industrial countries

0.95

0.70

0.56

0.51

8.0

6.4

5.5

5.3


High-income economies

0.77

0.73

0.59

0.54

4.6

4.7

4.0

3.9


Transitional economies

1.36

0.61

0.50

0.45

3.3

1.6

1.4

1.3

Developing countries

3.84

3.30

2.85

2.42

44.6

54.7

64.2

70.8


Latin America & Caribbean

2.88

2.20

1.77

1.42

7.8

7.7

7.5

7.1


Sub-Saharan Africa

4.82

4.71

4.30

3.79

5.2

8.1

11.6

15.3


North Africa & Middle East

4.58

3.55

2.94

2.33

5.4

6.3

7.2

7.4


Asia & Pacific

3.94

3.40

2.89

2.40

26.2

32.5

37.8

41.0



India

3.13

2.76

2.84

2.71

5.8

6.9

9.4

11.9



China

4.29

3.66

2.73

2.07

10.8

13.6

14.0

13.4



Rest of Asia & Pacific

4.23

3.60

3.11

2.54

9.6

12.0

14.5

15.7

World total

2.62

2.37

2.16

1.92

52.5

61.0

69.7

76.0

Source: Based on United Nations, 1996c.

There are significant regional variations in the level of urbanization. One-third of the current population in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia(4) are city and town dwellers, compared to three quarters of the population in Latin America (see table 1). The proportion of the population residing in urban areas is projected to increase in all regions. Furthermore, the rate of growth is highest in the regions with the lowest level of urbanization (see table 2). Regional differences - in terms of urbanization levels - are thus likely to be reduced in the future.

It is important to note that half of the urban population growth in developing countries is caused by natural population growth(5) in the urban areas. As can be seen from table 3, the relative importance of natural population growth appears to increase in all regions, apart from in Asia and the Pacific, and in particular in India and China where the relative importance of rural-urban migration seems to be increasing.

Table 3. Natural population growth,5 as percentage of urban growth, developing countries, by region

Region(4)

1980-2000

2000-2020

Latin America & Caribbean

69

76

Sub-Saharan Africa

56

60

North Africa & Middle East

60

69

Asia & Pacific

43

39


India

62

39


China

28

25


Rest of Asia & Pacific

50

51

Total developing countries

50

50

Source: United Nations, 1996c.