Population and urbanisation

Home learning focus

Learn about population and urbanisation including population distribution, growth and push and pull factors for migration.

This lesson includes:

  • one video explaining urbanisation

  • one video about the biggest cities in the world

  • one video exploring rapid urbanisation in Bangalore, India

  • three activities


World population distribution describes how people are spread out across the globe. The human population is not spread evenly. Few people live in locations that are sparsely(settled at widely-spaced intervals) populated and densely(crowded closely together) populated places have many.

The distribution of people is often shown using a dot distribution map.

Urbanisation is the movement of populations from rural areas to towns and cities. Around the world the pace of urbanisation is getting faster. Watch this short film to find out more.

UK population distribution

Population distribution in the UK is also uneven. Some parts of the UK are very crowded. The south east, which includes the city of London, has a much greater population than the highlands of Scotland.

The population is very unequally distributed over the four parts of the UK: England makes up about 84 per cent of the total population, Wales around 5 per cent, Scotland roughly 8.5 per cent, and Northern Ireland less than 3 per cent.

Reasons for the population distribution in the UK

The south east of England covers one tenth of the land area but has over one third of the UK population living there.

The south east of England benefits from:

  • good transport links
  • easy access to the rest of Europe and beyond
  • being the seat of Government
  • the City - the financial heart of England

North West England has a high population density because many people located there because of raw materials (coal) and industry.

Scotland has a low population density because:

  • some areas of Scotland are remote
  • it is mountainous, making areas less accessible

Population density

Population density is the number of people living in an area. It is worked out by dividing the number of people in an area by the size of the area. So, the population density in an area is equal to the number of people per sq km, divided by the size of the area in sq km.

The population density for the UK is approximately 260 people per sq km but if we look at different areas within the UK, we see big differences in density.

The most densely populated areas of the UK are the major cities such as London in the south east and Birmingham in the West Midlands. Rural, highland areas have lower densities.

London has a population density of 4,932 per sq km. Urban spaces tend to be more crowded. Scotland has a density of 65 per sq km. Rural spaces have fewer people and they are usually more spread out.

The UK is about 100 times as densely populated as Australia which has approximately two people per sq km.

Population density and distribution is affected by many factors. People prefer to live in places where they can grow food, build homes and work. Some areas are very difficult places to live and so only very few people live there.

Factors that attract people and lead to dense populations include:

  • flat or gently sloping land
  • mild climate
  • good soils
  • lowland
  • water
  • good transport and communication links, eg ports
  • places to work
  • resources, eg coal, oil

Factors that may discourage people and lead to sparse populations include:

  • steep slopes
  • harsh climate - very hot or very cold
  • dense forest
  • dry conditions
  • isolated areas with poor transport or communication links
  • few jobs
  • lack of resources

Population growth

The world's population does not stay the same. In fact, over the last few hundred years it has been growing faster and faster.

In the entire world, there has been an explosion in population. During the 1st century AD, the world population was about 300,000 people. The current population is over 7 billion, and most of the growth has taken place within the last 100 years. In fact, in the late 1990s, the world population was 5.9 billion, which increased to over 7 billion in 2011. During the 1960s the population was half what it is today, ie 3.3 billion.

The world population is still growing rapidly. Although the rate of growth is slowing slightly, there are so many young people that population will continue to grow for some time.

Population growth in less economically developed countries (LEDCs) and more economically developed countries (MEDCs)

What causes population to change?

  • births (eg availability of contraception (any form of birth control used to prevent pregnancy) and trends)
  • deaths (eg war and disease)
  • migration (eg people moving into or out of a country)

Cause and effects of migration

Migration is the movement of people from one permanent home to another. This movement changes the population of a place. International migration is the movement from one country to another.

People who leave their country are said to emigrate (leave a country to move permanently somewhere else).

People who move into another country are called immigrants (a person who arrives from another country).

The movement of people into a country is known as immigration (the action of coming to live permanently in another country).

Every year some people leave the UK and move abroad. At the same time some people will move into the UK. Immigrants add to the total population and emigrants are subtracted from the total.

Sometimes people just move from one region to another within the same country.

In many developing countries, large numbers of people have moved from the countryside to the cities in recent years. This is called rural to urban migration(the movement of people from the countryside to the city).

Why do people migrate?

Sometimes people have a choice about whether they move, but sometimes they are forced to move.

The reasons people leave a place are called the push factors (a factor that encourages people to leave the place in which they live and to move elsewhere).

The reasons people are attracted to new places to live are called the pull factors(a factor which attracts people to move to a new place).

Urbanisation in India

The population of Bangalore in India has increased by half in the last decade as IT and other sectors have boomed.

13-year-olds Dua, Nayan and Amalia are on a trip of a lifetime to explore the impact of urbanisation on the city.

Watch this short film to find out more.

Migration in Asia

In many areas of Asia there is rural-to-urban migration. China has seen rapid urbanisation(the fast growth of towns and cities and associated movement of populations into them) as an increasing proportion of people live in urban areas. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of people who live in cities has increased from 20 per cent to nearly 50 per cent. The reasons for rural to urban migration are:

  • people are moving into cities to find work
  • farming systems in rural areas changed to allow people to leave the group cooperative(when organisations or companies work together to benefit each other, eg farmers might work together to buy expensive machinery which they then share.)
  • newly industrialised areas needed workers
  • there was the belief that the standard of living is better in cities

In some areas, such as Shanghai, the birth rate is below replacement level (the number of births per thousand needed to maintain the current population level). Therefore, the city's population would be shrinking. However, because of migration, the size of the city is increasing rapidly.

Busy roads full of traffic against a backdrop of skyscrapers in Shanghai.

Traffic and skyscrapers in Shanghai

Busy roads full of traffic against a backdrop of skyscrapers in Shanghai

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Which cities are the world's largest and where are they located? Watch this short animation to find out.


Here are a few activities to try to help you remember what you've learnt about population and urbanisation.

Activity 1

Urbanisation data analysis

Download the work sheet below. Study the graph showing the the urban and rural population of the world from 1950 - 2030 and answer the questions provided.

This resource is from Twinkl

Urbanisation: Data analysis work sheet

Activity 2

Rural to urban card sort

Download the work sheet below. Cut out the cards and sort them into push factors to leave rural areas and pull factors to move to city areas.

This resource is from Teachit

Rural to urban card sort work sheet

Activity 3

Population and migration quiz

How much have you learnt? Have a go at answering the questions in this quiz.

This resource is from SAM Learning

Population and migration quiz

There's more to learn

Have a look at these other resources around the BBC and the web.

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KS3 Geography
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11 - 14 Geography
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Urbanisation resource pack