No matter where in the world you live, one of the first things that you learned about the planet was very likely the different continental landmasses. It’s one of the easiest ways to recognize how humanity is distributed across Earth, and it’s why we’re going to talk about the seven continents (or six?!) of the world, today. Even though we know a great deal about the world’s geography, that doesn’t mean the entire world is in agreement about how it should be viewed!
As you’ll see from the brief article below, the way that we see the continental boundaries might not be exactly how they’re seen elsewhere. Read on, to find out more!
For the most part, we recognize Earth’s continents based on the way that landmasses and oceans are separated by tectonic plates. These are the gargantuan masses of the planet’s outer shell that rest atop the Earth’s mantle. Centuries of geological and geographical study combined have shown us that these tectonic plates are in perpetual motion—the type of motion that takes millions of years to reveal any great consequence, apart from geological events such as earthquakes.
In fact, much of our knowledge of the world’s continents doesn’t just come from one branch of science. Geology and geography both have been hugely helpful in enhancing our understanding of the planet we live on. And the dividing lines that separate the continents are largely responsible for how we device several nations and countries!
The Continental Boundaries
Even if different continental models are taught in different places around the world, that doesn’t change the fact that we mostly recognize continental boundaries in the same way. The developed world is almost unanimously in agreement about plate tectonic theory, at least in regard to how it has shaped our planet.
Three different continental models are going to be the subject or this article. One recognizes seven separate continents, and the other two each recognize six. But even in those models where only six continents are recognized, you’ll see seven familiar continental titles. North America, South America, Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Antarctica. If you’d rather skip the details and simply learn more about the continental models, feel free to glance down to the bottom of this article!
Otherwise, continue reading to learn more about each of these continents.
Continents of Earth
Below, you’ll find some brief data about the major continents on Earth. They’re very likely all familiar to you, but you might not be familiar with their size in relation to one another. In addition to the size of each of these landmasses, we’re going to spoil you with a bit more information—specifically related to the types of people that live here, how that population is spread across the land, and what the numbers look like.
Our readers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will no doubt recognize the continent upon which they reside. But they might not realize just how expansive it is when compared to the rest of the world.
Though many cultures and people now populate North American countries, many nations of indigenous peoples preceded the arrival of European settlers, and others. In fact, they preceded these immigrants by many hundreds of years—this is an undisputed fact. However, many trends in immigration have led to cultures from all over the world finding their homes in these countries, including the United States.
- Continental Size: 9,540,000 square miles (24,709,000 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 565,265,000 approximately
In some places—primarily in Europe—South America is simply thought of as the lower half of a larger continent: the Americas. In the seven continent model, however, it becomes its own entity. It’s widely regarded as having extremely varied terrain and climates, ranging from lush rainforest to mountain peaks. Much of the continent is close to the equator, which provides tropical temperatures and weather patterns.
Oddly, South America is similar to Australia in that much of its population is on the continent’s coasts. The interior is more sparsely populated, due to the wild and less hospitable environments of the interior. And similar to North America, many groups of indigenous peoples called this continent home long before European settlers arrived.
- Continental Size: 6,890,000 square miles (17,840,000 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 406,740,000 approximately
Far more than just “the land down under,” Australia is an extremely interesting continental presence. It’s been the home of unique indigenous groups, as well as European settlers. Today, Australia is regarded as an extremely prominent country, with a healthy economy and heavily developed urban areas. In spite of this, the interior of the continent is still quite wild, featuring environments less suitable for supporting people.
- Continental Size: 3,291,903 square miles (8,252,989 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 38,304,000 approximately
Asia is far and away the largest continent on Earth, no matter which way you choose to look at it. Greatest landmass? Asia takes the cake. The greatest number of people in its total population? It wins that category as well, but maybe that’s a no-brainer—when you have so much livable land, it would only make sense that more people are inhabiting it, right?
For all of the attention that Western civilization gives to Europe, being the birthplace of many Western cultures, Asia is where prominent Eastern cultures originated. And throughout modern history, this continent has also housed some of the greatest civilizations and economies in the world. In some countries that utilize a six-continent model, Asia is combined with Europe to form the larger entity of Eurasia.
- Continental Size: 17,212,000 square miles (44,579,000 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 4,298,723,000 approximately
This continent is occasionally referred to as the “cradle of civilization” since most historians, paleontologists, and other scientists regard it as the land where mankind first showed up on Earth. That is to say, it’s where Homo Sapiens evolved from their ancient ancestors. It also happens to be where humanity first began building civilizations, as we recognize them today—locations where people eschewed hunter/gatherer tendencies to begin settling singular areas of land.
Africa holds many countries and dozens of different cultures. It also contains great disparities in wealth, many regions that live in poverty, and some of the least-touched areas of wilderness that can be found on our planet.
- Continental Size: 11,668599 square miles (30,221,532 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 1,110,635,000 approximately
Even though European people have spread across the surface of the Earth, this continent is largely recognized as the birthplace of Western civilizations. Each culture that sprang forth from Europe was markedly different than those fostered by people living to the east, on the continent of Asia. They were similarly very different from the people living to the south, in Africa, though interactions between all stretch back for thousands of years.
- Continental Size: 3,930,000 square miles (10,180,000 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: 742,452,000
Though we can definitely approximate the size of this frigid continent, there isn’t much that we can say about its population. Because of the fact that Antarctica is largely uninhabitable, there are no permanent residents to be found here. It’s the home of the world’s southernmost pole, but it isn’t much of a home for people. Several species of land and water-based animals have certainly adapted to it, but none of the resources necessary to support us can be sustained here.
- Continental Size: 5,400,000 square miles (14,000,000 square kilometers) approximately
- Continental Population: No permanent residents. 500-4000 temporary residents based on current seasons.
The standard that’s taught in most place of the world is the seven-continent model. It includes all of the above seven continents, and each is respected as its own landmass with its own boundaries.
English-speaking countries, in particular, have embraced this as the model to be followed and taught. And being that it’s the most frequently taught of the continental models, there’s a good chance that it’s the one you’re used to.
Six-Continent Combined-Eurasia Model
Many of the differences between this model and the seven-continent model above are evident in the name. Instead of seven, this model recognizes six major continents by consolidating Europe and Asia into a single continental entity.
Six-Continent Combined-Americas Model
Romance language countries are primarily responsible for recognizing the combined-Americas continental model. Like above, it only acknowledges six major continents, but instead of combining Europe and Asia, it instead sees North and South America as simply, “the Americas.”
Though this has only been a cursory glance at the seven (or six) continents of the world, we hope that it’s been enlightening! Clearly, there’s more to be discovered about every inch of the planet that we live on, but the above guide should help to get you started on the major landmasses that we’ve inhabited for thousands of years. They’re indicative of the boundaries that we create for our cultures, just as they tell the story of Earth’s millions of years of changing landscape, due to plate tectonics.
If you have any further questions about the seven continents of the world, let us know in the comments below! We’ve told you what they are, but we’re happy to answer more specific questions about any of them.