Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Energy
8 July 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:17am

Top 10: the world’s most overpopulated countries

New index ranks countries according to the strains their population is placing on resources.

By Samira Shackle

Research newly published lists the most overpopulated countries. When we talk about “overpopulation” (as opposed to population size), we are referring to the link between the human population and its environment. Therefore, it’s not just the size or density of the population that matters, but how that population relates to sustainable resources.

The Overpopulation Index is thought to be the first to rank countries by these criteria — looking at how dependent they are on other countries, and whether they consume more than they produce.

Here’s the top ten:

Top ten overpopulated countries

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

According to these figures, the world as a whole is overpopulated by two billion. The geographical location of countries deemed overpopulated is interesting — there are nine Middle Eastern countries in the top 20, and eight European. Despite popular perceptions of China and India, these countries come in much lower, at 29th and 33rd, respectively. This shows, again, that population size or density is not the key measure.

The UK comes in at a slightly less respectable 17th. Its self-sufficiency rating is 25.8 per cent, meaning that Britain could only support a quarter of its population — about 15 million — if it had to rely on its own resources.

It’s worth noting at this point that overpopulation is a hotly contested issue. The index was compiled by the Optimum Population Trust, which advocates a voluntary “stop at two” policy on children in the UK, and has lobbied for stricter controls on immigration, saying that “immigration has brought no overall benefit to the UK”. I won’t get into these debates here — you can read Philippe Legrain’s excellent critique of the “Britain is full up” argument if you want the other side of the story on that particular point.

The key point here is sustainability. Even if population growth were to level off in the UK, we would still, by these measures, be unable to support ourselves unless the population shrank drastically, or food production grew. A situation where all imports disintegrate is unlikely, but improving food sustainability can only be a good thing.

Subscription offer: 12 issues for just £12 PLUS a free copy of “The Idea of Justice” by Amartya Sen.