Geography Facts about the World’s Continents

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Continents are generally defined as “continents are understood to be large, continuous, discrete masses of land, ideally separated by expanses of water.” (Lewis and Wigen 1997).  

That said, many of the seven continents fail to meet this criteria, particularly in terms of being separated by water.  For example, North and South America are classified as two continents as are Europe and Asia.

How Many Continents are There?

Depending on how they are divided, the total number of continents in the world depends on the division used.  

The minimum number of continents is four: Afro-Eurasia, America, Antarctica, and Australia.  

A map showing the world divided into four main continents. The Americas are shaded in light blue, Europe, Africa, and Asia form Acro-Eurasia and is shaded in light orange. Australia is shaded light green and Antarctica is shaded in light gray.
Map of the four continent model. Map: Caitlin Dempsey, Sphere Natural Earth map projection.

Different combinations of recognizing Africa, Europe, and Asia as separate continents alters the number up to a total of seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.  

Map showing the different continents in light shades of color for a total of seven continents.
Map showing the seven continent model. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

Some organizations such as the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee exclude recognition of Antartica since it’s not inhabited.


What is the Largest Continent?

The continent of Asia has the largest area on earth.  Africa is the second largest continent in terms of size

What is the Most Populated Continent?

The continent of Asia contains the highest population of all the continents.  Africa is the second most populated continent.

Table of Continent Size and Populations

ContinentArea (km²)Area (mi²)Percent of World Landmass2010 PopulationPercent of Total World PopulationPopulation Density (per mi²)
North America24,490,0009,460,00016.50%542,056,0008%57
South America17,840,0006,890,00012.00%392,555,0006%57

The data used for this table is from: “Total Population – Both Sexes”World Population Prospects, the 2010 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 28 June 2011.


Lewis, Martin W.; Kären E. Wigen (1997). The Myth of Continents: a Critique of Metageography. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 21.

Related resources:

Continents and Population Density: learn about the size and populations of each of the world’s continents.  A basic worksheet for students to identify different continents and calculate population density for each of them.

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