There are two ways of defining which countries are the smallest: population size and total area. Let's look at the smallest countries from these two different angles and see what trends we can find!
Smallest Countries by Population
The population size of a country is estimated during the census that is taken every ten years. For example, there is a requirement set in metaphorical stone in the United States that requires the government to take a headcount of every person in the United States at that time.
The first US census was conducted on August 2, 1790, and is conducted every ten years. In other words, the Census Bureau of the United States of America performs a decennial census. Before the official decennial census, there were similar acts of counting the number of people in the US and recording the population. These documents are kept safe by the National Archives and Records Administration of the USA.
To give you an idea of how population sizes can drastically change from one decade to the next, let’s take a look at the results of the United States census since 1940:
- 1940 - 132,164,569 people
- 1950 - 150,697,361 people
- 1960 - 179,323,175 people
- 1970 - 203,302,031 people
- 1980 - 226,545,805 people
- 1990 - 248,709,873 people
- 2000 - 281,421,906 people
- 2010 - 308,745,538 people
The most recent United States Census is currently being conducted in 2020.
While most countries see population growth over the years, several nations are experiencing population decline. This is due to low birth rates, negative net migration, and high death rates.
Smallest Countries in Terms of Population
What is the least populated country in the world? The smallest country in terms of population is Vatican City. Below is a list of the smallest countries based on population size alone, followed by their respective current populations:
- Vatican City - 801
- Nauru – 10,824
- Tuvalu - 11,792
- Palau - 18,094
- San Marino - 33,931
- Liechtenstein - 38,128
- Monaco – 39,242
- Saint Kitts and Nevis – 53,199
- Marshall Islands – 59,190
- Dominica - 71,986
Smallest Countries by Total Area
The total area of a country refers to how much land is encompassed by the country's borders. Often denoted in terms of miles squared or kilometers squared, its total area is a numerical value of its physical size. Some of the largest countries globally are Russia (6.59 million square miles), Canada (3.85 million square miles), and China (3.75 million square miles). Unlike the population, the total area of countries is stagnant.
Often, the total area and population size go hand-in-hand. The total area usually determines the population size because you cannot make more room, but you can control how many people live in a given area. However, there is not always a reasonable ratio between total area and population size, so a country that is one of the smallest in terms of the population doesn't necessarily end up being small in terms of total area.
What is the smallest country in the world by area? The country with the smallest area is Vatican City, which spans over just 0.17 square miles. Below is a list of the smallest countries based on total area.
Smallest Countries in Terms of Total Area
- Vatican City - 0.17 square miles
- Monaco - 0.78 square miles
- Gibraltar - 23.94 square miles
- San Marino – 24 square miles
- Tokelau - 48.26 square miles
- Nauru - 84.17 square miles
- Tuvalu - 1,007.73 square miles
- Macau - 1,162.94 square miles
- Saint Martin - 2,054.06 square miles
- Bermuda - 2,093.06 square miles
Trends Between the Two Categories of Determining the Smallest Countries
If you look closely at the two lists, multiple countries can be found on both lists. This finding makes a lot of sense because countries with a total area on the smaller side will often have a smaller population. Otherwise, the severity of overcrowding would be nearly unbearable. While there are some instances in which relocating and moving to a lesser-populated country is possible, it is not always realistic.
Another exception to the assumption that a smaller landmass means fewer people is that some locations are incredibly remote or inhabited primarily by native people, so immigration is less likely to occur in these areas of the world. The outcome that you find with places under these circumstances is that the total area is quite massive, but the population size is far smaller than you would think for an area of that magnitude.