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Metadata Glossary

Indicator NameUrban population (% of total population)
Long definitionUrban population refers to people living in urban areas as defined by national statistical offices. The data are collected and smoothed by United Nations Population Division.
SourceUnited Nations Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects: 2018 Revision.
TopicEnvironment: Density & urbanization
Aggregation methodWeighted average
Statistical concept and methodologyUrban population refers to people living in urban areas as defined by national statistical offices. The indicator is calculated using World Bank population estimates and urban ratios from the United Nations World Urbanization Prospects. Percentages urban are the numbers of persons residing in an area defined as ''urban'' per 100 total population. They are calculated by the Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Particular caution should be used in interpreting the figures for percentage urban for different countries. Countries differ in the way they classify population as "urban" or "rural." The population of a city or metropolitan area depends on the boundaries chosen.
Development relevanceExplosive growth of cities globally signifies the demographic transition from rural to urban, and is associated with shifts from an agriculture-based economy to mass industry, technology, and service. In principle, cities offer a more favorable setting for the resolution of social and environmental problems than rural areas. Cities generate jobs and income, and deliver education, health care and other services. Cities also present opportunities for social mobilization and women's empowerment.
Limitations and exceptionsAggregation of urban and rural population may not add up to total population because of different country coverage. There is no consistent and universally accepted standard for distinguishing urban from rural areas, in part because of the wide variety of situations across countries. Most countries use an urban classification related to the size or characteristics of settlements. Some define urban areas based on the presence of certain infrastructure and services. And other countries designate urban areas based on administrative arrangements. Because of national differences in the characteristics that distinguish urban from rural areas, the distinction between urban and rural population is not amenable to a single definition that would be applicable to all countries. Estimates of the world's urban population would change significantly if China, India, and a few other populous nations were to change their definition of urban centers. Because the estimates of city and metropolitan area are based on national definitions of what constitutes a city or metropolitan area, cross-country comparisons should be made with caution.
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License TypeCC BY-4.0