Continental size can be measured in quite a few different ways—landmass, population, population density, and more. If we’re talking about the world’s largest continent, however, many of these criteria are all going to point in one direction. Whether you’re interested in the statistics behind such measurements or just the barebones facts, we’re going to expound upon what it means to be the biggest continent on Earth, in all of the different ways that such a thing can be measured.
And of course, we’ll shed a little bit of light on the runners-up, too. It’s an interesting scale no matter which way you look at it, and anyone concerned with world geography (as we so clearly are) will definitely want to pay attention!
There’s never been a better time to get interested and invested in world geography. Almost every landmass on the planet has been thoroughly explored and mapped. Thus, we can honestly that we know quite a lot about the different continents on Earth, as well as the human cultures that populate them. And the advent of the digital era has only continued to grow our understanding in formerly unprecedented ways.
The speed and accessibility of online communications have helped our world to feel smaller. We can now reach halfway around the world with our words, images, and messages in the blink of an eye. Inversely, all of this open access has given us avenues by which to understand the rest of the world as we have never had before. Those two facts might seem at odds with each other, but it’s actually a very complementary situation. After all, all kinds of great things can come about when everyone knows more about how the rest of the world is living. And beyond that, where they’re living.
Continents of the World
No matter where you are in the world, understanding of the world’s continents is going to be almost entirely similar. In spite of that fact, different schools of thought and different regions occasionally embrace different models of how the continents are understood. Even with those differences, however, almost all models are identical. And it should be said outright that our results to the topic of the day—which of the continents is “largest”—are going to be the same, no matter which continental model you recognize.
Much of our current understanding of the world’s continents is based on what we’ve learned about Earth’s history and plate tectonic boundaries (of which we know quite a lot!) Thus, there are seven frequently recognized regions of the world that are usually referred to as the continents. And the continental model that’s taught most frequently around the world is the seven continent model.
The continents included in this model are:
- North America
- South America
Though it’s obvious to most, it should be stated that continental boundaries are only very rarely the lines that separate countries, too. Most English-speaking countries utilize this model, and no matter where you travel in the world, it’s going to be well understood. However, there are other prominent regions on Earth that teach slightly different models.
Combined Eurasia Model
While the seven-continent model is used most frequently, there are two six-continent models that are taught in other regions of the world. The first of these is the combined-Eurasia model, and it stands apart in ways that are probably made very obvious by its name! This model combines Europe and Asia into a single continental entity, rather than recognizing them separately. Thus, only six continents exist in this model.
It’s most frequently taught in Russia, Japan, and certain areas of Eastern Europe.
Combined Americas Model
The other six-continent model is made different in the way that it combines two continents that are separate in the seven-continent model. The combined-Americas model is known as such because—surprise!—it combines North and South America into a single entity. As is the case with the other six-continent model, this one is taught relatively rarely when compared to the seven-continent model.
It’s most frequently taught in certain regions of Europe—France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Also, it’s important to recognize that even within these regions, the seven-continent model is sometimes embraced as the standard, due to how widespread it is.
The Largest Continent
There are two rather oblique ways that we’re going to look at how to find the “largest continent” on Earth. First, we’re going to look for the one that’s largest in terms of landmass, followed by which is largest in terms of population, alone. The answers might surprise you, but even if they don’t, we’re also going to look at some of the runners-up in each of these two distinct categories.
It’s an interesting way to look at Earth’s landmasses, as well as the people living on them. And we hope that it’ll shed some insight into what you know about the world, too!
Largest by Landmass
Without a doubt, and without any competition, the largest continent based on landmass alone is Asia. It’s vastly expansive beyond anything that can be found on comparatively smaller continents, and there is little doubt as to this particular finding, anymore.
However, it’s not enough to just say that it’s the biggest. Let’s take a look at some actual measurements that will help you to see just how greatly it dwarfs Earth’s other landmasses. The following data was published in a piece on ThoughtCo, and it will tell you just how large Asia is.
- 44,391,162 square kilometers (approximately)
- 17,139,445 square miles (approximately)
Massive, right? And as you might imagine, such a huge landmass has a lot of room to house quite a lot of people! But we’ll get to that shortly. First, we’re going to look at how some other continents stack up in ranking, according to their landmass.
Taken from the same publication, we can examine some of the “runners-up” in terms of sheer landmass. When we only have seven continents to examine, this makes comparisons and rankings pretty easy! Of course, these are all approximate, but unlike the measures of the populations that we’re going to discuss below, landmass isn’t going ot change very much in our time. Even with our rising sea levels around the world, this list is fairly static.
- Africa: 30,244,049 square kilometers (11,677,239 square miles)
- North America: 24,247,039 square kilometers (9,361,791 square miles)
- South America: 17,821,029 square kilometers (6,880,706 square miles)
- Antarctica: 14,245,000 square kilometers (5,500,000 square miles)
- Europe: 10,354636 square kilometers (3,997,929 square miles)
- Australia: 7,686,884 square kilometers (2,967,909 square miles)
Wait a moment…Antarctica is bigger than Europe and Australia? That’s right, but only if we’re talking about sheer landmass, alone. This list of rankings helps to provide some much-needed scale to how these continents relate to one another in terms of size.
Largest by Population
The other way that we’d like to look at continent size is based on the number of people living on it. However, even though it’s a different perspective, the answer to that question is going to remain exactly the same—Asia is still far and away the largest of them all.
For many, this isn’t exactly a surprise. Much of Asia consists of regions that can be lived in, and certain populations centers are densely packed with people. But just as before, we’d like to prove this with actual numbers rather than claims alone. We’ve taken these numbers from the same ThoughtCo piece as above, and they’re largely corroborated by other relevant studies.
According to recent census data, approximately 4,055,000,000 people live on the continent of Asia. That’s over four billion! A massive number, no matter which way you choose to look at it, and no matter how that population is spread.
More People, More Places
Just as above, we’re not content to just give you the biggest, and leave it at that. Below, we present a ranked list of the largest continents based on population, as they appear below the most populous—Asia.
- Africa: 1,108,500,000 (approximately over 1 billion)
- Europe: 729,871,042 (approximated, and including all of Russia)
- North America: 522, 807, 432
- South America: 379,919,602
- Australia: 20,434,176
- Antarctica: No permanent residents
Surprising, right? For as much attention as we might pay to our own countries’ census and population counts, we don’t often learn much about how many people are living across the various land masses of our planet. And the above counts—even the approximated ones—don’t include the several million people who aren’t living on continental landmasses.
Whether you’re looking at the actual, measurable landmass of continents themselves, or the number of people living on them, you can certainly gain a new appreciation for our planet by looking at how they relate to one another. We hope that the above information has helped to shed light on a little more than which of them is the biggest. And though new census data might cause some disparities in the numbers that we’ve shared, the overall rankings that we’ve established have no changed. From the massive continent of Asia to barren Antarctica, it’s interesting to look at how humanity is spread out across the globe. If you have any further questions on the topic, be sure to let us hear them in the comments section!