Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/January 1892/The Population of the Earth


AFTER an interval of nine years the publication of the Bevölkerung der Erde has been resumed by the well-known geographical establishment of Perthes of Gotha. This is the eighth issue of this invaluable and authoritative publication. It first appeared in 1872 as a supplement to Petermann's Mitteilungen, the editors being the late Dr. Ernest Behm and Dr. Hermann Wagner, now Professor of Geography in the University of Göttingen. Up to 1882 the Bevölkerung der Erde was issued on an average every two years, always as a supplement to Petermann's Mitteilungen. While the eighth issue was being prepared Dr. Behm died, and Prof. Wagner was not able to undertake by himself the preparation of the vast mass of statistics involved. Owing to various causes, a period of nine years has elapsed before the publication has been resumed. Dr. Wagner's name still appears on the title-page as editor, associated with that of Dr. Supan, who succeeded Dr. Behm as editor of the Mitteilungen, of which the Bevölkerung continues to be a supplement. The form has, however, been changed from a quarto to a large octavo, which makes the work much handier for consultation. It covers two hundred and seventy pages, and is the one work that exhibits in detail the area and population of the earth in all its divisions and subdivisions. It is no mere indiscriminate collection of statistics. The whole is systematically arranged under the great divisions of the globe. Every figure has been critically examined; in all cases the sources of the statistics are given; where there are various figures, the value of each is discussed; where there is no authoritative census, the greatest pains have been taken to obtain trustworthy estimates. Equal care has been bestowed on the calculation of areas, new measurements of a large extent of the earth's surface having been specially undertaken for the work. Thus, it will be seen that Wagner and Supan's Bevölkerung der Erde stands high above all other works of a similar kind. The figures which it gives may be taken as the nearest approximation to the truth obtainable. It may be stated that Prof. Levasseur in 1886-'87 published in the Bulletin of the International Statistical Institute a collection of statistics on the area and population of the countries of the world, which were good and trustworthy so far as they went, though they are not nearly so detailed as those contained in the new issue of the Bevölkerung der Erde.

The preparation of the new issue has involved unusual labor, as it was necessary to examine all the statistics which have appeared since 1882. For many countries which have no censuses Dr. Supan has undertaken special investigations as to population; in this way he has dealt with Africa, Turkey in Europe and Asia, Arabia, China, East India Islands, etc. Dr. Supan is responsible for the sections dealing with Africa, America, Australia, the Oceanic Islands, and the polar regions; all colonial statistics have fallen to his share, while Prof. Wagner has looked after Europe and Asia. In several respects the arrangements of the various sections is an improvement on that of former issues.

In 1866 Behm estimated the population of the earth at 1,350,000,000. In the sixth issue (1880) of the Bevölkerung der Erde the number had apparently grown to 1,456,000,000, showing an ostensible increase of 106,000,000 in fourteen years. But this difference was really due to more accurate statistics and estimates rather than to actual growth. It was somewhat alarming, however, when in the 1882 issue the total population of the earth appeared as 1,434,000,000, showing a seeming decrease in two years of 22,000,000. But this was largely accounted for by the fact that new investigations compelled the reduction of the estimated population of China from 405,000,000 to 350,000,000. The estimate, reached in the present issue of 1891 for the total population of the earth is 1,480,000,000, showing an increase of 46,000,000 over the estimate for 1882, being at the rate of 5,750,000 per annum. This estimate is 3,000,000 less than that of Levasseur in 1886, partly due to the fact that Levasseur took higher estimates of the population of China and of Africa than have Wagner and Supan. But as the data for a very large area of the inhabited globe are to a considerable extent based on guesswork, it is no wonder that estimates should differ, and that we can not be sure of the population of the world to within 60,000,000, possibly 100,000,000, either way. In 1880 Prof. Wagner found that, of the total population in that year, precise data based on actual enumeration (censuses or registration) were available for only 626,000,000 out of 1,401,000,000—that is, forty-four per cent of the total. This population has meanwhile increased to 737,000,000 (though the increase in some cases is only apparent); to this must be added 99,000,000, for which, since 1880, exact enumerations have been substituted for vague estimates. This gives 836,000,000 out of the total of 1,480,000,000 of people—i. e., between fifty-six and fifty-seven per cent—of whom fairly precise enumerations have been taken. True, in this is included 113,000,000 (the population of the Russian Empire) of whom a general census, in the modern sense of the term, has not been taken, except in the case of one or two provinces. Although, when the figures are looked at by themselves, there has apparently been an increase of population since 1880 of 125,000,000, as a matter of fact the difference between the estimated population of 1880 (1,401,000,000, after deducting the excess credited to China) and that of 1891 (1,480,000,000) is only 79,000,000. This apparent decrease in the rate of growth is really due to the reductions which the editors have felt bound to make on the basis of more careful investigations in the estimates of the population of certain regions. Thus, they have reduced the population of Africa by 38,000,000, while in Asia a deduction of 15,000,000 has been effected. All this shows how conscientiously and critically the editors have gone about their laborious task, and leads us to place the more confidence in the results. Even in Europe there are considerable differences between the areas now accepted and those given in previous issues; the population statistics have been changed throughout.

The following table gives the area and population of the great divisions of the earth's surface according to the latest data:

  Square miles. Population. To 1 square mile.
Europe* 3,756,860 357,379,000 94
Asia† 17,530,686 825,954,000 47
Africa‡ 11,277,364 163,953,000 14
America** 14,801,402 121,713,000 8
Australia†† 2,991,442 3,230,000 1
Oceanic Islands. 733,120 7,420,000 10
Polar regions 1,730,810 80,400 . .
Total 52,821,684 1,479,729,400 . .
*Without Iceland, Nova Zembla, Atlantic islands, etc. † Without arctic islands.
†† The continent and Tasmania. **Without arctic regions. ‡Without Madagascar, etc.

More recent figures given in the appendix for one or two countries (British India, the Netherlands, etc.) would make no essential difference in the great total. This total is greater by over 12,000,000 than the estimate of Mr. Ravenstein in his recent paper on the Lands of the Globe still Available for European Settlement; but then Mr. Ravenstein reduces the population of Africa by about 30,000,000 below the estimate of Wagner and Supan.

Among European countries Belgium still exceeds all others in density of population; the proportion is 530 persons to a square mile. Belgium is followed by Holland, with 365 to the square mile, and the United Kingdom with 312. If we take England alone we find the density to be close on 480 to the square mile, still considerably below that of Belgium. The density in Scotland is only about one fourth that of England, while that of Ireland is one third. The most thinly populated countries in Europe are Norway and Finland, which have only sixteen people to the square mile. Turkey occupies considerable space in the new issue, the statistics of the area and population of the various divisions and subdivisions of Turkey in Europe, Asia, and Africa, and of her tributary states, being given in minute detail, with copious references to authorities.

There are some curious and delicate estimates of the area of Europe according to various calculations and within various limits. Thus, according to Strelbitsky (who for several years has been making elaborate calculations and measurements on the subject), the area of Europe is 3,756,545 square miles, while according to Wagner's estimate it is 3,755,493, a difference of about 1,000 miles. But if to this we add Nova Zembla, Cis-Caucasia, and Cis-Uralia, the Marmora Islands, and Iceland, we get, according to Strelbitsky, 3,865,417 square miles, and according to Wagner, 3,865,279, a difference of only 138 miles. Again, if we take Europe within the limits of administrative divisions we obtain an area of 3,836,912, but this includes Iceland, Nova Zembla, the Canaries, and Madeira, making 79,165 square miles. Here comes in the question as to what are the natural boundaries of Europe, a question to which Drs, Wagner and Supan briefly refer. They regard as outside of Europe the Canaries, Madeira, the Azores, and the Marmora Islands. The inclusion or otherwise of Iceland, Spitzbergen, and Nova Zembla, will make a difference of 103,093 square miles; while there will be a further difference of 424,750 square miles depending on the limits adopted for the eastern boundary of Europe. Europe in the narrowest sense, according to these highly competent authorities, covers 3,570,030 square miles. This excludes the polar islands, and draws the boundary of eastern Europe along the crest of the Urals and the line of the Manytch River, thus excluding the Caspian Steppe, but including the Sea of Azoff. By including the polar islands another 103,000 square miles would be added. If the Caspian Steppe be included, the area of Europe would amount to 3,688,792, or with the polar islands to 3,791,792 square miles. If the boundary of eastern Europe be drawn along the Ural crest, the Ural River, and the crest of the Caucasus, we obtain an area of 3,790,504 square miles, or, including Iceland and Nova Zembla (Europe in Strelbitsky's acceptation), the area is 3,866,605 square miles. Finally, taking Europe in the widest sense, including the Ural Mountains, the south slope of the Caucasus, the countries on the east side of the Ural, and the steppe between the Ural River and the Emba, we obtain an area of 3,988,618 square miles, or, with the polar islands, about 4,093,000 square miles.

For the section dealing with Asia, Herr B. Trognitz, a land surveyor, has undertaken a new and elaborate calculation of the area of the continent on the basis of the best maps at his command. Into the details of his methods it is unnecessary to enter; the general result is, that for the continent we are now given an area of 16,021,078 square miles, which may be slightly increased or diminished according as the boundary between Asia and Europe is drawn. To this if we add the area of all the Asiatic islands (exclusive of the new Siberian islands and Wrangel Land), we reach a total area of 17,179,490, the conclusion being that the area of Asia has hitherto been overestimated by 167,570 square miles. The total area of Asiatic Russia, according to Trognitz's calculation, is 6,510,810 square miles, not including the arctic islands. The total area of Persia is estimated at 635,165 square miles, and the estimate of population, according to Houtum-Schindler's calculation for 1882, 7,653,000, is still repeated. But taking into account that during the last nine years there have been no wars and no famines, nothing to check the natural increase of the population, competent authorities believe that the population of Persia is more likely to be about 9,000,000. Although in the body of the work the detailed population of India is only given for 1881, the authors are able, in the appendix, to give that for 1891.

There is an elaborate discussion on the subject of the population of China proper (the eighteen provinces), which at one time was greatly exaggerated, some authorities making it out to be 500,000,000. After a careful examination of all available data, Drs. Wagner and Supan are inclined to estimate the total population for China proper at only 350,000,000 in round numbers, or about 68,000,000 more than the estimate reached by Sir Richard Temple. Including Mantchuria, Mongolia, Kansu, and Thibet, the total population of the Chinese Empire is given as 361,500,000, living on an area of 4,674,420 square miles. Corea is credited with a population of 10,500,000. The total population of Arabia is reduced by Dr. Wagner to 3,472,000, very different from the estimate of 10,725,000 given by Rashid Bey in 1875. The area assigned to Arabia by Wagner and Supan is 1,153,430 square miles.

As might have been expected, considerable space is devoted to Africa, with the result that the population has been reduced to 164,000,000, whereas a few years ago a common estimate was 220,000,000. Drs. Wagner and Supan evidently consider Ravenstein's estimate of 127,000,000 much too low. They say there have been during the past few years four points of "political crystallization"—the Upper Nile, the Niger, the Congo, and South Africa. Mediterranean Africa has, as a whole, remained passive. Here are problems for the future—the fate of Egypt, the Tripoli question, and the Morocco question. A brief sketch of recent events in the partition of Africa is given, with a useful chronology from 1882 to May, 1891. To Africa south of the equator Herr Trognitz assigns an area of 3,540,740 square miles. Of this, 951,000 square miles are assigned to British South Africa, including Nyassaland and the whole British region from the Zambesi to the Cape. The total population of this area is estimated at only 3,800,000. Neither to the Niger Protectorate nor to the British East Africa Company's sphere do Drs. Wagner and Supan venture to assign either an area or a population. The area, they tell us, is "off en" and for population they simply put a (?). To Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) an area of 310,000 square miles is given, and Portuguese West Africa, including Portugal's share of Loanda, 517,000 square miles. The Congo Free State is credited with an area of 865,380 square miles, and a population of 14,000,000. Of the total area, 309,000 square miles are under forest.

Turning to America, we find that the Bevölkerung has not been able to secure the figures for Canada for 1891; though as a second part, containing the population of towns, will be issued, no doubt an opportunity will be taken to supplement the information given in this part. Pretty full details are given of the results of the United States census of last year.

About the rest of this invaluable collection of statistics there is nothing further to remark at present. There is a new estimate of the areas of the South American states; indeed, one of the prominent features of the new issue is the care which has been taken in estimating the area of the various states of the world and their administrative divisions. Now that Africa is divided up among European powers, whose officials are spreading all over the continent, it is to be hoped that some means will be taken to form more precise estimates of the population of the various regions. Until that is done we can not know to within millions how many people live upon the face of the earth.—London Times.