2.1 Population distribution

There are approximately 6 billions (6 000 million) people on earth and they inhabit only approximately 15% of the surface of the earth (see circle graph).

population distribution

  • It is easy to analyse the words population distributionPopulation refers to people and distribution refers to where these people live on earth. The map below indicates that people are not distributed evenly across the globe. In certain areas there is a larger concentration of people than elsewhere.

1. Factors that influence the movement and settlement of people

There are approximately 6 billions (6 000 million) people on earth and they inhabit only approximately 15% of the surface of the earth (see circle graph).

There are certain factors that influence the choice of where to live.

Natural factors:


Pleasant temperatures (between 10 ºC and 30 ºC) and comfortable humidity attract people. Extreme circumstances such as windstorms or very high rainfall should not prevail.


People go where their basic needs can be addressed. Food and water are the most important of these needs.

Human factors


People will settle where they can earn money (often in spite of an unpleasant climate).

Political decisions:

Decisions made by the government of a country can make circumstances very unpleasant for the inhabitants, which cause a migration of people elsewhere.

AN INTERESTING FACT: – Approximately 90% of the world population lives in the Northern Hemisphere.

– Approximately 60% of the world population lives in areas that are lower than 200 m above sea level.

Activity 1:

To study a map of the world as a group to acquire information

[LO 1.1]

  • Study the map of the world as well as maps in your atlas. Find possible answers to the following questions:
  • What are the reasons for the low density of population at a, b and c?
  • Why is the population at d and e also sparse?
  • Does the Amazon River in Brazil have anything to do with the density of _______________population in that country? (Explain)
  • Explain the reasons for the density of population in the North Eastern corner of __________________________Africa.
  • Would you say that Australia is an urbanised country?

2. The choice: in the city or in the country/rural area?

  • Most of the grade 6 learners who are reading this, live in a city or in a large town! We know this because more than half of our country’s population is URBANISED. This means that more than 50% of our people live in large towns or cities. This is determined by means of a census.
  • When you examine the map on page 3 it becomes clear that people are not distributed evenly over the globe, but are concentrated in certain parts. This has not always been the case. From the very beginning – even in Biblical times – there were cities, although most people did not live there. Only over the past 50 years the number of people in South Africa living in cities increased, and decreased in rural areas. These figures vary from country to country.
  • In the migration between urban and rural areas, technology has always played a significant role. As new opportunities for work develop, people change their workplace and often the place where they live. This means that people generally move from rural to urban areas to look for new employment opportunities.
  • Technological development results in people being replaced by machines in the workplace and that the people who lose their jobs, move to the cities where there are more employment opportunities.

What happened in Britain and the rest of Europe about 200 to 250 years ago?

Factors that played a role in the movement of people from rural areas to towns and cities:

  • Because of agricultural technology fewer people were needed to work in fields to produce food.
  • Because of developments in medical technology, there was a greater increase in population growth and people moved to the cities where they expected more job opportunities.
  • Steam technology resulted in the building of factories (close to coal mines) and many of the home industries in the rural areas became redundant.
  • The cities offered a better working environment and better pay.

Activity 2:

To have a class discussion on urbanization in SA

[LO 1.1, 1.5, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3]

  • Talk to your parents about the situation in South Africa and have a class discussion afterwards about the patterns of urbanization in South Africa. Your teacher will guide you.
  • Particularly look for similarities and differences between Europe in the past, and present day South Africa. Write a short paragraph on the subject.

Interesting statistics relating to how rapidly urbanisation took place in Europe in the past:


  • 1800 – 25% of the population lived in the cities and towns
  • 1900 – 75% of the population lived in the cities and towns

The city of Milan in Italy

  • Between 1951 and 1956 the population of the city increased by 1,5 million! Seventy percent of the new inhabitants came from rural areas in Southern Italy.
  • During the last 50 years there had been such a fixed pattern in population movement from rural to urban areas, especially in cities with rapidly developing industries, that rural areas were regarded as a source of labour for the industry. The depopulation of the countryside in areas such as northern Norway, the west of Ireland and northern Scotland was so severe, that it was difficult to refer to those areas as viable communities. The problem was made worse by the fact that the majority of people who moved were young and this slowed down the population growth even further.
  • Some countries have taken steps to rectify this situation. In Italy, for example, factories have been established in the south of the country.

3. Europe: change in the settlement of people over the past 50 years

Activity 3:

To identify urban areas in Western Europe

[LO 1.5]

This map shows the urban areas (indicated in black) in Western Europe to which people moved over the past 50 years. Do you realise where growth at a rate of 2% per year over a period of 50 years could lead? Identify the urban areas by placing the numbers alongside the cities.

  • Activity 1.4 refers to urban areas instead of cities. In many instances this is due to expansion of cities. Eventually they merged with one another. The Ruhr region in Germany is one area in which a number of cities have merged. Those of you who are familiar with areas such as the Nelson Mandela Metropole, the area between Cape Town and Kuils River, the Witwatersrand or other metropoles in our country, will understand. In the Ruhr region and other European areas the high-density areas are much bigger.

Activity 4:

To reflect on the depopulation of rural areas and urbanisation

[LO 3.1, 3.3]

  • Is the influx of people into the cities a problem or an opportunity?
  • Is the depopulation of the rural areas a problem or an opportunity?

Your group must pretend to be the cabinet of this country. You need to make an urgent decision about the depopulation of the rural areas and the resulting influx into the cities. Are you going to oppose or allow it (and then manage it)?

Use the ideas in the frame below and propose other ideas, then discuss the issue thoroughly. Write a press release of about 150 to 200 words to announce your decision and motivate it.

* The prosperity of a country * Community life is disintegrating – What is left in rural areas? * Young people leave and older people are left behind * Churches * Schools * Houses * Controlled informal housing * Shops and garages * Technology * What does history teach us? * An enemy attack * Municipal income * The building of roads and provision of services * Employment opportunities * What role should the government play? * The “course of life” * Advantages and disadvantages * Tourism * The interest of the country * Emigration




Geography: Textbook content produced by Siyavula Uploaders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 license.


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