How many cities in the world with population over 1 million

The biggest cities to ever exist

For the first time in human history, a majority of people live in urban environments. The world’s largest cities today fall under a class that researchers call “megacities,” with a population of over 10 million people. Tokyo, the largest city in the world, has a population of 38,140,000. nearly four times that number. Of the nearly 8 billion people on Earth, 7% of them live in megacities. Learn a bit more about these massive settlements, how they compare, and how we got our rankings.

See Also: Population Statistics | World’s 50 Most Populous Countries | U.S. State Capitals and Largest Cities

Note: Population figures given are in millions

Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2016).

What’s a City?

While people will generally agree that a city is a close area with a lot of buildings and people, defining what counts as a city for demographic purposes can be tricky. Per World Urbanization Prospects, there are three basic ways to determine a city: there’s the city proper, which is just the legal bounds of the city itself; there’s the urban agglomeration, which includes all connected urban area or densely settled areas around the city; and then there’s the metropolitan area, which includes the range of suburbs and communities wherein much of the population regularly commutes into the city. Most of these numbers are urban agglomerations, but some are not, either due to tradition or due to particular characteristics about that city. The city with the widest disparity between these figures is Jakarta, with about 10,000,000 in the city proper and 30,000,000 in the agglomeration.

The Urban World

According to the most recent figures from the United Nations, over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in an urban environment. That number is expected to reach 60 percent by 2030. Today, 23 percent of the population lives in cities exceeding one million in population, and 7 percent of the population specifically lives in megacities of more than ten million. There are 512 cities with at least 1 million people, but only 31 megacities.

Of megacities, a substantial majority are in the Global South. China is home to six megacities, and India has five. China and India collectively account for 7 of the 20 cities on our list. Japan, Brazil, and the United States are the next best represented with two megacities apiece, and 5 on our list.

What’s Changing?

The most substantial changes in urban populations have been in China and sub-Saharan Africa. China has been undergoing rapid urbanization since the restructuring of their economy in the latter portion of the twentieth century. By 2030 China is expected to attain yet another megacity, marking a clear departure from its agrarian past. 20 major cities in China are currently growing at double the global average rate, such as Hong Kong, which has doubled in size in the past six decades.

In Africa, due to rapid population growth and urbanization, three new countries will host megacities within the next decade and a half: Johannesburg in South Africa, Luanda in Angola, and Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. Additionally, the cities of Lagos, Nigeria and Kinshasa, DRC are projected to continue their meteoric rise, going from 17th and 23rd place to 9th and 12th, respectively. This can likely be attested to improved access to health services, and the nations’ increasing shares of global GDP.

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What are the most populated cities in the world? Here is a list of the top ten most populated cities in the world:

It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of the most populous cities in the world are in the two most populated countries in the world, China and India. Among these are Shanghai and Beijing, with populations of 25 and 22 million respectively, Delhi (27 million), and Mumbai (over 21.5 million).

However, Tokyo is the largest city in the world if the entire Tokyo metro area is included, with a total of more than 38 million residents. Another Japanese city, Osaka, also has a very large population of almost 20.5 million. There are also a number of non-Asian cities with high populations, including Mexico City (over 21 million), Cairo (almost 19.5 million), and Buenos Aires (almost 15.5 million).

Of the European cities, Istanbul is the most populous, with more than 14.5 million residents. This is followed by Moscow (over 12 million) and Paris (11 million including the Paris metro area). These cities are of course also culturally significant and between them welcome millions of tourists each year.

There are quite a number of popular and culturally rich cities that have smaller populations, often making for higher living standards for their residents. Barcelona, Sydney, Berlin and Vancouver all have fewer than five million residents, but are very popular choices for city living. There are also some comparatively very small cities with big cultural, historical or political reputations, such as Sarajevo (314,000), Edinburgh (502,000), and Venice (631,000), demonstrating that small cities can be highly significant regardless of the size of their population.

List of the world’s most populous cities

The United Nations uses three definitions for what constitutes a city, as not all cities in all jurisdictions are classified using the same criteria. Cities may be defined as the cities proper, the extent of their urban area, or their metropolitan regions. The largest city by population using the city proper definition, which is the area under the administrative boundaries of a local government, is Chongqing, China. The largest city by population using the metropolitan area definition, which is a loose term referring to urban area and its primary commuter areas, is Tokyo, Japan. The largest city by population using the urban area definition, which is a loose term referring to a contiguous area with a certain population density, is also Tokyo, Japan.


City proper (administrative)

A city can be defined by its administrative boundaries (city proper). UNICEF defines city proper as “the population living within the administrative boundaries of a city or controlled directly from the city by a single authority.” A city proper is a locality defined according to legal or political boundaries and an administratively recognised urban status that is usually characterised by some form of local government.[1][2][3] Cities proper and their boundaries and population data may not include suburbs.[4]

The use of city proper as defined by administrative boundaries may not include suburban areas where an important proportion of the population working or studying in the city lives.[4] Because of this definition, the city proper population figure may differ greatly with the urban area population figure, as many cities are amalgamations of smaller municipalities (Australia), and conversely, many Chinese cities govern territories that extend well beyond the traditional “city proper” into suburban and rural areas.[5] The Chinese municipality of Chongqing, which claims the largest city proper in the world by population, comprises a huge administrative area of 82,403 km2, around the size of Austria. However, more than 70% of its 30-million population are actually agricultural workers living in a rural setting.[6][7]

Urban area

A city can be defined as a conditionally contiguous urban area, without regard to territorial or other boundaries inside an urban area. UNICEF defines urban area as follows:

The definition of “urban” varies from country to country, and, with periodic reclassification, can also vary within one country over time, making direct comparisons difficult. An urban area can be defined by one or more of the following: administrative criteria or political boundaries (e.g., area within the jurisdiction of a municipality or town committee), a threshold population size (where the minimum for an urban settlement is typically in the region of 2,000 people, although this varies globally between 200 and 50,000), population density, economic function (e.g., where a significant majority of the population is not primarily engaged in agriculture, or where there is surplus employment) or the presence of urban characteristics (e.g., paved streets, electric lighting, sewerage).

According to Demographia, an urban area is a continuously built up land mass of urban development that is within a labor market (metropolitan area or metropolitan region) and contains no rural land.[8]

Metropolitan area

Tokyo is widely considered the world’s largest city (by urban area and metropolitan area). The satellite image shows that its urbanization has exceeded its city limits

A city can be defined by the inhabitants of its demographic population, as by metropolitan area, or labour market area. UNICEF defines metropolitan area as follows:

A formal local government area comprising the urban area as a whole and its primary commuter areas, typically formed around a city with a large concentration of people (i.e., a population of at least 100,000). In addition to the city proper, a metropolitan area includes both the surrounding territory with urban levels of residential density and some additional lower-density areas that are adjacent to and linked to the city (e.g., through frequent transport, road linkages or commuting facilities).

In many countries, metropolitan areas are established either with an official organisation or only for statistical purposes. In the United States, metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for statistical purposes.[9] In the Philippines, metropolitan areas have an official agency, such as Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) which manages Manila metropolitan area.[10] Similar agencies exist in Indonesia such as Jabodetabekjur Development Cooperation Agency for Jakarta metropolitan area.[11]


There are 81 cities with a population over 5 million people according to the United Nations 2018 estimates. The UN figures are a mixture of city proper, metropolitan area, and urban area. Several cities such as Jakarta and Seoul have significantly larger metropolitan/urban population figures which are excluded in the UN data.

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Written by Jane