Population density measures just how crowded a country or a city can get. Having only a million people in a large country like the US will make it seem like it’s a desolate land, but when you pack that million people in a small area like Washington DC, the place can get really crowded.
Pros and Cons of Dense Populations
So what’s the point of knowing which countries, cities, or states have the highest population density? If you’re trying to figure out where you want to live, then population density is a crucial statistic you’ll want to know about.
The good news about the most densely populated cities like NYC in the US is that in general they can be very lively. People probably flock there because there are more employment opportunities, and lots more entertainment options are available than in a small town. In places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, it’s very difficult to get bored. Even people watching can be very entertaining.
At the same time, areas with the highest population density can cause a lot of problems. With so many people squeezed in tight places, there may be food and water shortages. Air pollution is also a problem because such densely populated areas tend to be highly urbanized with lots of factories and cars. Waste management can also be difficult, and crowded areas tend to get high crime rates.
Most Densely Populated Countries
If you think that the United States has a dense population, think again. It’s understandable if you think so because you live in LA or New York City. But the US has lots of sparsely populated areas, especially out west. In fact, the US is actually sparsely populated, as it is the 182nd most densely populated country in the world.
So which countries are actual contenders for the title of most densely populated country? Here are the really crowded countries if you want to visit large crowds:
- 1. Macau. This is actually a Special Administrative Region in China (like Hong Kong) so in essence it’s like a separate country. It has 614,500 people in just 11 square miles, so that gets us a population density of 54,882 people per square mile. This is the most densely populated country in the world.
- 2. Monaco. This principality is really a sovereign state, so it can also be argued that it is really the most densely populated country. Its area is just 0.78 sq. mi., and with that small space you have 36,950 residents (and more tourists). That’s at least a population density of 47,850 people per square mile.
- 3. Singapore. This is a city-state in Southeast Asia, and it’s officially known as the Republic of Singapore. Its 277 square-mile area is packed with 5,469,700 people and it is a major tourist attraction too. That results in a population density of 19,731 people per square mile.
- 4. Hong Kong. While it has reunified with China, in many ways it is still a separate country. There are 7,234,800 people living in an area that’s only 426 square miles, so the population density is 17,019 people per square mile.
- 5. Gibraltar. This is another small territory, this time administered by the UK even though it’s located in the southern part of Spain. The locals think of themselves as UK subjects and in the most recent referendum, 98% of the people rejected a proposal that would have had the UK and Spain share sovereignty over the territory. With just 2.3 square miles, there are 29,752 people. That’s a density of 11,007 people per square mile.
- 6. Vatican City. This is also an independent country, and the Pope is its leader. It is so small that its area is just 110 acres and it only has 842 citizens and residents. But that’s 4,709 people per square mile. And it can get really crowded with the tourists. The Vatican museums get 4.3 million visitors a year, and the Sistine Chapel gets 20,000 people a day (7.3 million a year).
- 7. Bahrain. This is the first country on this list that actually has a capital (Manama). It may be connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway, but the Kingdom of Bahrain is a major non-NATO US ally with a more Western outlook. It is more relaxed in its attitude towards Western attire, since its population of 1.23 million includes more than 666,000 non-nationals. Spread out over an area of just 295.37 miles, it has a population density of 4,224 people per square mile.
- 8. Malta. You’ve probably heard of this place because of the «Maltese Falcon», right? It’s located right off the southern coast of Italy. It has about 416,000 people in a 122-square mile area, and that’s a density of 3,421 people per square mile.
- 9. Bermuda. This island is located about 640 miles east of the US. It has about 20.6 square miles and 64,237 people, which gives us about 3,139 people per square mile.
- 10. Sint Maarten. There’s an island in the Caribbean called Saint Martin, and the southern 40% part of it is Sint Maarten, which is a constituent country of . (The rest of the island is French.) It has an area of about 13.1 square miles and 37,429 residents, and that means the population density is about 2,857 people per square mile.
As you can see, the most densely populated countries in the world are actually quite small.
Most Densely Populated Cities in the World
If you want to live in most densely populated city in the world, then you’re going to have to live abroad if you’re an American. The most densely populated city in the US is LA, and it is 90th on the list of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Here are some of the really crowded cities, with their rough population estimates, land area in square miles, and number of people per square mile:
- 1. Mumbai, India. Population 14.35 million. Area 187 square miles. Population density 76,738 people per square mile.
- 2. Kolkata, India. Population 12.7 million. Area 205 square miles. Population density 61,951 people per square mile.
- 3. Karachi, Pakistan. Population 9.8 million. Area 200 square miles. Population density 49,000 people per square mile.
- 4. Lagos, Nigeria. Population 13.4 million. Area 285 square miles. Population density 47,018 people per square mile.
- 5. Shenzen, China. Population 8 million. Area 180 square miles. Population density 44,445 people per square mile.
- 6. Seoul/Incheon, South Korea. Population 17.5 million. Area 405 square miles. Population density 43,210 people per square mile.
- 7. Taipei, Taiwan. Population 5.7 million. Area 145 square miles. Population density 39,310 people per square mile.
- 8. Chennai, India. Population 5.95 million. Area 160 square miles. Population density 37,188 people per square mile.
- 9. Bogota, Colombia. Population 7 million. Area 200 square miles. Population density 35,000 people per square mile.
- 10. Shanghai, China. Population 10 million. Area 288 square miles. Population density 34,722 people per square mile.
India and China, which are two of the most populated countries in the world, have 5 out of 10 cities here. Despite the sizes of the areas of these countries, many of the people choose to live in the cities, and that means you get really densely populated areas.
If you’re looking for other densely populated cities south of the US border, you can also try out Lima (Peru), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Mexico City, and Santiago (Chile). For those who want to stay in the densely populated European cities, the most packed places are Istanbul (Turkey), Athens (Greece), Ankara (Turkey again), Madrid (Spain), and London (UK).
Most Densely Populated Cities in the US
But what about if you want to live in a US city? Which ones are the most packed? This discussion can get a bit confusing, since there’s some debate as to how the area and the population should be measured. Should the suburbs be included or not?
To settle the matter, the US Census measures the urban areas, which include core cities and the adjacent suburbs. The metropolitan area is not really considered, since it usually contains rural areas as well.
So which major city has the highest population density? Here’s a list of the top contenders:
- 1. Los Angeles, California. Even though it’s supposed to be a sprawling city, LA covers only half the land area of New York City, and yet it has ⅔ of NYC’s population. It has an area of 1,736 square miles in which more than 12.2 million people are packed in. That’s a population density of almost 7,000 per square mile. The urban center of LA may be less dense than in NYC, but the density in the LA suburbs are double that of the NYC suburbs.
- 2. San Francisco, California. The density here is 6,266 people per square mile. Its urban core is as dense as in NYC, but the SF suburbs are more crowded.
- 3. San Jose, California. The population density is 5,820 people per square mile. This is mostly because of the suburbs, as its urban core isn’t actually all that crowded.
- 4. NYC, New York. It may have more than 18 million residents, but it is the city with the largest urban area in the world. It’s bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. So it’s 4th at just a density of 5,319 people per square mile.
- 5. Las Vegas, Nevada. Like San Jose, the urban core is actually very small, but the urban area does include the dense suburbs. Its population density is 4,525 people per square mile.
- 6. Miami, Florida. This city has a packed center and crowded suburbs too. Its population density is 4,238 people per square mile.
- 7. San Diego, California. Another California city with higher than average density in the suburbs. The population density is 4,037 people per square mile.
- 8. Salt Lake City, Utah. Its population density is 3,675 people per square mile. This is because of the suburbs again.
- 9. Sacramento, California. This makes the 5th California city in the list, and like all the others the density is caused by the large numbers of people in the suburban areas.
- 10. New Orleans. Its population density is 3,579 people per square mile, but that’s a significant 30% decrease from 2000 levels. At one point it was the 5th most densely populated city in the US with 5,096 people per square mile, but then Katrina happened.
In other words, it’s not really in the Northeast where you’ll find the densely populated cities. It’s actually in California.
Most Densely Populated States in the US
But what if you don’t really want to live in the city, but you still want to live in states with more people per square mile? What’s the most densely populated state?
If the definition of «state» includes D.C. and Puerto Rico, it means that the most densely populated state is the District of Columbia because it’s all about Washington. Its density is at an amazing 10,589 people per square mile. Puerto Rico comes in at #3 with a population density of about 1,056 people per square mile. The US Virgin Islands comes in at #6 at 792 people per square mile, Guam is #7 with 760 people per square mile, and American Samoa is #9 with 726 people per square mile.
But if we’re going to list only among the 50 states, then the most densely populated state is New Jersey. Here’s the top 10 list:
- 1. New Jersey. Population density 1,210 people per square mile.
- 2. Rhode Island. 1,017 people per square mile.
- 3. Massachusetts. 858 people per square mile.
- 4. Connecticut. 743 people per square mile.
- 5. Maryland. 611 people per square mile.
- 6. Delaware. 475 people per square mile.
- 7. New York. 417 people per square mile.
- 8. Florida. 365 people per square mile.
- 9. Pennsylvania. 286 people per square mile.
- 10. Ohio. 283 people per square mile.
If you were wondering, California is just outside the list at #11, with 246 people per square mile. It’s a very large state, and so it’s not really all that crowded when you also consider the rural areas.