February 15th, 2011 | Posted in Population Basics
by Carl Haub, senior demographer
Population and geography are forever intertwined. One question that pops up from time to time is the number of countries in the world. While not a question on everyone’s lips, it is certainly important when figuring out the population of the world! If one researched this quickly, it would be possible to come up with a variety of answers. Here are a few.
About.com Geography gives 195, but goes on to point out that there are “dozens” of territories or colonies (sic) that are not real “countries” in their reckoning such as Bermuda and Puerto Rico. Worldatlas.com gives a figure anywhere from 189 to 195. TV Chile’s Facebook page says 212. Many lists begin with the 192 United Nations members and may add a few such as Kosovo or Taiwan, not recognized by the UN. Another imaginative effort counted Internet domain names, such .de for Germany and came up with 243 and goes on to say that there’s no accepted number but between 193 and 250 is “rather certain!” When it comes to regions, infoplease.com gives 47 countries in Africa plus six islands off the coast for a presumed total of 53 but answerbag.com says 58, which is actually one more than PRB lists.
There is, of course, no single answer and much lies in one’s definition of a country. Loosely speaking, a country is an independent, sovereign state that has delegated none of it powers to another country. For its annual World Population Data Sheet, PRB does not use the term “country” but “geopolitical entity” — a neat way to avoid commitment! In the spreadsheet upon which the Data Sheet is based (which went from being handwritten on green accounting worksheets until the early 1980s to Lotus 1-2-3 and then on to Excel), there 240 countries and that number is about to rise.
Years ago, PRB based its list largely on the UN Demographic Yearbook, which is similar to the breakdown of countries and regions in the biennial world population projections of the UN Population Division. A country defined this way is actually to linked to whether or nor its population is shown separately. For example, the figures used for “France” in the Data Sheet and by the UN refer to métropolitaine France, which consists of the départements on the mainland plus Corsica. Guadeloupe, Guyana, Martinique, and Reunion are overseas departments and their populations are traditionally shown separately. Puerto Rico is similar in that it is a commonwealth with the United States and its population is individually listed, not lumped together with the United States. Its official name in Spanish translates as “Free Associated State,” which seems a bit stronger than commonwealth.
In 2010, there were 209 countries actually printed on the Data Sheet out of the 240 in the spreadsheet. There are currently two criteria for appearing on the print version: a population of 150,000 or more or UN membership, conditions set long ago. There are several major differences between PRB’s list and the UN’s. PRB does show both Kosovo and Taiwan as both are de facto self-governing entities, although not necessarily universally recognized.
More changes are coming for 2011. The southern part of Sudan recently voted for independence, which is proposed for July 2011. But a number of areas, Blue Nile and South Kurdufan state, along with the Abyei area must hold an election to decide if they wish to join the South and other areas are in dispute with neighboring countries. The country is also likely to select a new name. In the Caribbean, the Netherlands Antilles are no more, having dissolved in October 2010. So, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Martin are now separate entities but won’t be printed on the Data Sheet since none have a population of 150,000 or more (although Curacao is getting close) and none have joined the UN. The 2011 World Population Data Sheet will then have 244 geopolitical entities totaling to world population – or 245.