Population is power, so it pays to keep track of it (along with national IQ and GDPcc), for those with an interest in geopolitics and futurism.
I used to spend way too much time poring over statistics almanacs and the CIA World Factbook during my school years, so I have a pretty good fix on the populations of major countries.
That is, when someone names “population of-“, the first number that leaps to my head is:
- Germany – 82M
- France – 65M
- UK – 65M
- Italy – 60M
- USA – 320M
- Russia – 145M
- China – 1.3B
These are all broadly accurate, though China is now converging to 1.4B, the US is at 330M, and some other minor discrepancies.
They are also major countries so I “update” them more frequently.
In the case of smaller countries, I am less accurate, because the information is less important and because I update it more frequently. For instance, earlier this year, I was shocked to discover that Serbia’s population was 7M, not 10M. I had obviously kept conflating it with all its rightful territories territories still intact. But such cases are rare, at least for Europe.
But this becomes much less accurate when you expand into Third World countries:
- India – 1.1B
- Indonesia – 230M
- Nigeria – 150M
- Bangladeshi – 150M
- Egypt – 90M
- Turkey – 80M
- Iran – 80M
- Ethiopia – 70M
- DRC – 50M
I know in my head that all of these populations are larger, but those are still the first figures that tend to come to mind when those countries are named.
In reality, the differences can be pretty stark: India is converging with China to 1.4B, Indonesia is at 270M, Nigeria is approaching 200M, Egypt is at 100M, Ethiopia is at 110M, and the DRC is at 85M.
The Third World countries are underestimated, twice over for two reasons, first because they are changing much more quickly so it is easy to be left behind, and second because they’re less important so mentally updated less often anyway.
Then there are a few countries, mostly in Eastern Europe, which have instead lost quite a lot of people. For instance, Ukraine is probably around 35M now, but “mental image” is still at 45M or so.
This is something that affects me and that I find amusing. Also probably quite an important phenomenon as a source of bias (failure to update), and it doesn’t just concern demographics. It’s an even bigger issue so far as perceptions of economic development, or military strength, are concerned. For instance, many “analysts” seem to believe that China outside its eastern seaboard, and Russia outside Moscow, are a twilight zone of peasant hovels and dilapidated post-industrial ruins, respectively. Which may have had some element of truth in the 1990s but are absolutely outdated today, serving as cope for insular Westerners.