The 7 Continents Ranked by Size and Population

Father and son looking at a world map made with rocks on the grass.

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What is the largest continent on Earth? That's easy: Asia. It's the biggest in terms of both size and population. But what about the other continents: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America?

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Asia, the Largest Continent

Food vendor at a Taiwan night market.

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Asia is by far the largest continent in the world, spanning 17.2 million square miles (44.6 million square kilometers). Being the largest geographically also puts Asia at an advantage population-wise, as having 4.6 billion of the world's 7.7 billion-person population.

And these aren't the only superlatives of this continent. Asia also boasts the highest and lowest points on Earth. Mount Everest is the highest point, at 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level. The lowest point is the Dead Sea, which is more than 1,414 feet (431 meters) below sea level.

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Africa

Aerial view of a busy street market in Ghana.

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Africa is No. 2 on both lists: population and size. In area, it spans 11.6 million square miles (30 million square kilometers). Its population is estimated at 1.3 billion. Along with Asia, these two continents are forecast to be the highest areas of world population growth in the coming decades.

Africa is home to the longest river in the world, the Nile. It stretches 4,100 miles (6,600 kilometers) from Sudan to the Mediterranean Sea.

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North America

An aerial shot of the abandoned and iconic ore dock in Marquette, Michigan along the shore of Lake Superior.

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North America is where area and population diverge in their rankings because this continent's population is not growing as fast as Asia's. North America is third in area at 9.4 million square miles (24.5 million square kilometers). However, it's fifth on the list in population with 369 million people.

North America boasts Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. One of the Great Lakes, Superior covers more than 31,700 square miles (82,100 square kilometers) between the United States and Canada.

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South America

Cinematic photograph of Cuernos del Paine, Patagonia, Chile.

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South America is the fourth-largest continent, spanning 6.9 million square miles (17.8 million square kilometers). It is fifth on the world population list, with 431 million people living there. It is also home to one of the most populous cities in the world—São Paulo, Brazil, ranks No. 4 on that list.

South America has the longest mountain range in the world. The Andes Mountains stretch 4,350 miles (7,000 kilometers) from Venezuela south to Chile.

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Antarctica

Penguins relax on a small iceberg, Antarctica.

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Based on area, Antarctica is the fifth-largest continent at 5.5 million square miles (14.2 million square kilometers). But no one has to guess that Antarctica is last on the population list, as there are no permanent residents there. However, up to 4,400 researchers and personnel live there in the summer and 1,100 are there in the winter.

The amount of ice cover in Antarctica affects the exchange of heat, moisture, and gases between the ocean and the atmosphere. Changes in the ice, in turn, affect global weather patterns—and by extension, over time, climate.

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Europe

Greek coastline with buildings and water.

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By area, Europe is sixth on the list of continents, spanning 3.8 million square miles (9.9 million square kilometers). It also comes in at No. 3 on population rankings at 746 million people. The United Nations Population Division expects its population to decline over the coming decades due to declining fertility rates.

Europe lays claim to the largest and smallest nations in the world. Russia is the biggest at 6.6 million square miles (17.1 million square kilometers), while Vatican City is the smallest at just 109 acres.

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Australia

Kangaroos on Esperance Beach in Australia during the daytime.

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The only continent that is its own country, Australia is also the smallest: 3 million square miles (7.7 million square kilometers). Australia is also only the sixth-largest nation in the world in terms of population, likely in part because of so much of its land is uninhabitable. The majority of its 25 million-person population lives in the urban areas on the coasts. Australia's population is often listed together with Oceania, which is 43 million people.

Australia is about the size of the contiguous 48 states of America.

View Article Sources
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  2. International Indicators: Population mid-2019.” Population Reference Bureau.

  3. Nile River.” National Geographic, 22 Feb. 2019.

  4. Continent and Region Populations 2020.” World Population Review.

  5. Bencomo, Phil. “Just How Big Is Lake Superior?” Lake Superior Magazine, Lake Superior Magazine.

  6. World City Populations 2020.” World Population Review.

  7. Antarctica Population 2020.” World Population Review.

  8. The World Factbook: Russia. Central Intelligence Agency.

  9. The World Factbook: Holy See (Vatican City). Central Intelligence Agency.