• Population distribution means the pattern of where people live. World population distribution is uneven. Population distribution is perhaps the most essential of all geographic expressions, because the ways in which people have organized themselves in space at any given time represent the sum of all of the advances they have made to their overall geographical area.
  • Population distribution can also describe how people are arranged according to different variables such as age, sex, religion, or race.

There are three basic patterns of population distribution: they can equally-spaced apart (uniform dispersion), randomly spread out with no predictable pattern (random dispersion), or bunched in groups (clumped dispersion).

Population Density

Population density is a measurement of the number of people in an area. It is an average number. Population density is calculated by dividing the number of people by area. Population density is usually shown as the number of people per square kilometer. It is a way of measuring population distribution and shows whether an area is sparsely or densely populated. Population density is calculated using the following formula:

Population density = total population ÷ total land area in km²


What Factors Influence Population Distribution

There are numerous factors that explain why the population of the world has settled in locations that they inhabit today. These patterns of population distribution vary depending on the scale you are analyzing. You can study the distribution of a city or region, or you can look at the patterns from a global perspective. Factors that affect population distribution can be either be physical in nature or a by-product of the human condition.

Physical Factors that Influence Population Distribution

Physical factors affect population distribution because they limit where humans can establish permanent settlements.

1. Climate

Climate arguably has the greatest influence on population distribution. Indirectly, climatic effects on soil, flora, and farming have bearings on the pattern of population distribution. Even though the most favorable climatic conditions are hard to determine, we do know that any extreme, such as in rainfall or temperature, will limit the number of people on any part of the planet.


The quality of the soil has an undeniable influence on population distribution. Fertile soils can support very dense populations, as evidenced by the large concentration of populations settled in river valleys and deltas. Conversely, poor-quality soils in temperate lands can support only a sparse population. It is important to note that climate also plays a part in the influence of soil of population distribution. If you look at a map of the world depicting population distribution, you will see clusters of a vast number of people in areas of fertile and productive soils.

2. Soil

Good, fertile soil was essential for early settlers, as they needed to establish agriculture in order to survive. These areas were often the river valleys, where there was fertile alluvial soil. Places with thin, poor soil were far less conducive to settlement.

3. Resources

People need water in order to survive, so that is an essential resource which determines where they choose to live. Other resources such as coal, oil, and minerals have also had a great impact on where people have chosen to settle.

4. Vegetation

Some types of vegetation make the development of settlement more likely, e.g. grasslands. Areas with particularly dense rainforest, coniferous forests or those with little vegetation tend to have sparse populations.

5. Water supply

Water supply is essential for human survival and development and because of this areas which have sufficient water (but not too much) tend to have denser populations than areas which are dry or suffer from regular drought or areas which have excessive rainfall or which may be prone to flooding.

6. Relief

People tend to concentrate around flat land, often in river valleys, as this is the easiest for building and farming. The Ganges Valley in India is one example of a very densely populated river valley. Areas with high mountains were far harder to colonize, hence the fact that the Himalayas and Alps have a low population density.


7. Natural threats

These may affect population density as people may try to avoid areas where pests, threatening animals and diseases are particular risks.


Human Factors that Influence Population Distribution

Population distribution on the Earth’s surface is not determined by physical elements alone, for within the broad framework of physical forces, human factors also influence the way population is distributed over our planet.

1. Economic Factors

People tend to concentrate around prosperous areas.Most countries have experienced massive rural to urban migration at some point in their development, as the farm based workers have left the rural areas to try their luck in the big cities. This move to urban areas has caused many problems that will be explored in a later section. Transport improvements have allowed people to move to the economically prosperous areas far easier.

2. Political Factors

Political events and government policies also cause redistribution of populations throughout human history. Civil wars in Africa have forced a significant number of people to migrate from one region to another and in postcolonial Africa, the wave of migration to urban area by rural dwellers looking for better jobs has resulted in massive changes in population patterns. If people are unsatisfied with their government’s political system, they may pack up and leave that country to live in another.

3. Social Factors

Many cultural groups tend to group together, especially when they first enter a new country. Examples include areas in London which are dominated by Muslims, Hindus and Jews. Others prefer their own space, and live in isolation, such as the Eskimos in the Arctic.

4. Secondary industry

The Industrial Revolution and the discovery of mineral sources have resulted in considerably changed population distributions in many parts of the world, with dense population concentrations replacing long-established pattern of dispersal and generally even distribution. Industrial growth creates job opportunities and attracts workers from outlying area to the industrial areas, almost invariably resulting in areas of high population densities.


5. Historical factors

Past population distributions influence present and future population concentrations. The duration of settlements is important in determining the population density. Many of the areas with high population concentrations have a very long history of human habitation, while sparse populations in certain areas can, in part, be explained by recent habitation. You should not conclude, however, that the highest densities are always found in areas with the longest history of habitation.

6. Accessibility

Areas with well developed transport infrastructure and links through road, rail, shipping, canals and air are likely to be more densely populated than areas which are poorly connected.

7. Conflict

Wars and conflicts can lead to significant movements of population and a simultaneous decrease in density in some areas while others may increase.

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