India Grows, Russia Shrinks: Mapping Countries By Population

January 28, 2015

World maps distort. It’s inherent in their design.

Take a spherical object (the Earth) and try to represent it on a flat plane (paper). Some parts of the sphere are going to get distorted. (On most maps, Canada and Russia get puffed up, while countries along the equator get shrunk.)

Every now and then, though, you stumble across a map that enlightens.

That’s how we felt when we saw the awesome map made by Reddit user TeaDranks. The map resizes countries based on their population. It’s simple: Each square represents 500,000 people.

TeaDranks posted the graphic on Reddit’s map porn page on Jan. 16. He calls it his “magnum opus.”

“Wikipedia was my source,” TeaDranks wrote. “I was inspired by this map which is now ten years old. My map’s scale is twice as large as the old one’s.”

The older version of the graphic was made in 2005 by the cartographer Paul Breding. You can buy a copy of that map on Amazon.

But to be more accurate, both maps aren’t actually maps. They’re cartograms — a graphic that scales a region’s geographic space according to a particular attribute.

In the case of TeaDranks’ cartogram, the attribute is population. A quick look at it and a few ideas pop out:

  • India has almost caught up with China as being the most populous country in the world.
  • Nigeria has quickly become Africa’s population hub, with more than twice as many people as any other country on the continent.
  • Cities in India and China have more people than some European countries.
  • And the U.S. makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population.

The website Worldmapper has hundreds of cartograms, showing countries sized by everything from the number of books published or tractors working to condom use by men or woman.

“One neat thing about this one [TeaDranks’ cartogram] is that unlike with some cartograms, the basic shapes of the countries are very recognizable,” Vox’s Matthew Yglesias points out.

Hey, TeaDranks, if you’re out there, we’d love to talk to you. Shoot me an email.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.