In the 24 pages that follow, you'll find news maps and the latest data on the world's 196 countries-everything from languages and literacy rates to the percentage of young people in the population. To better understand the data, read the explanations accompanying the sample entry for China below. On each news map, you'll find photos and summaries of America's Challenges around the world. And in our Snapshots section, you'll learn, among other things, which countries have the most endangered species and where Internet connections are the fastest. We hope you'll keep this issue for year-round reference and that it will help you make sense of what's going on in the world as we head into 2015.
Area & Population
Landmass in square miles and number of people. To calculate population density, divide population by area. For example, China has about 370 people per square mile.
Percentage of Population Increase
The birth rate minus the death rate (without factoring in immigration) for the most recent year available.
The percentage of a country's population living in urban areas. Urbanization is on the rise as people move to cities in search of work.
There are 1.2 billion speakers of Chinese worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken language.
Political System & Head of Government
Type of government and current leader. Xi Jinping became China's president in 2013.
Percentage of Population Under 15
In China, just 16 percent of the population is under 15. Compare that with Iraq, where 40 percent is under 15.
Percentage of people who can read and write. The first number is for men, the second for women.
Date of Origin
The year a nation was established, gained independence, or took on its modern form.
The age to which a newborn infant can expect to live. The first number is for men, the second for women.
Per Capita GDP
The value of all goods and services produced within a country in one year (gross domestic product) divided by population. It's a way to gauge a nation's wealth.
HDI (Human Development Index)
A measure of economic and social well-being on a scale of 0 to 1 (1 is the highest). HDI factors include life expectancy, education levels, and average income.
A child ragpicker wades through a lake in Bhopal, India, looking for clothes, coins, and wood to collect and resell after a local festival. Despite India's economic boom in the last decade, about 400 million Indians still live in dire poverty. Ragpickers-many of them children-make a living sifting through India's garbage. In many parts of the country, they are the only system for disposing of trash.
URBAN ARE (SQ MI) POP. % POP. RISE CAPITAL LANGUAGES COUNTRY POPULATION %/YEAR China 3,696,100 54 Beijing Mandarin, other Chinese languages, 1,364,072,000 0.5 others DATE OF LITERACY PER ORIGIN RATE (%) CAPITA GDP COUNTRY POLITICAL SYSTEM & % OF POP. LIFE HEAD OF GOVERNMENT ORDER 15 EXPECTANCY HDI China Communist one-party 1912 98/93 $9,800 state; President Xi Jinping 16 74/77 0.719 America's Challenges 2015
Number of time zones in Russia, the most of any country. Russia is also the world's largest country by landmass (followed by Canada, the U.S., and China).
SOURCES: REUTERS: THE WORLD FACTBOOK 2014 (C.I.A.)
Average price of a gallon of gasoline in Norway, compared with $3.69 in the U.S. Norway, the 14th-largest oil producer in the world, has the highest prices at the pump because of high fuel taxes.
SOURCES: BLOOMBERG; THE WORLD FACTBOOK 2014 (C.I.A.) (AUGUST 2014 NUMBERS)
Vladimir Putin & Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been flexing his muscles a lot lately. At home, he's become increasingly authoritarian, tightening controls over the media, curtailing freedom of speech, and crushing his political opponents. Next door, after a popular uprising ousted Ukraine's pro-Russian president in March 2014, Putin backed armed separatist groups battling to break away from Ukraine's government in Kiev. And he shocked the world by annexing Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine since 1954. In response to Russia's action, the United States and its allies have imposed economic sanctions. The conflict has brought U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest point since the Cold War, which ended in 1991.
With 22 percent of Europeans under age 25 unable to find work, youth unemployment has been one of Europe's biggest challenges since the economic crisis began in 2008. Fears remain that weak economies in countries like Spain and Greece--where youth unemployment is higher than 50 percent--might pull the U.S. back into recession.
How United Will the Kingdom Be?
In September 2014, voters in Scotland rejected independence from the United Kingdom. To convince Scots to stay, British leaders promised them greater powers of self-government. It's unclear what exactly that will mean-or whether England, Wales, and Northern Ireland will make similar demands.
Europe UNBAN AREA (SO MI) POP. % POP. RISE COUNTRY POPULATION %/YEAR CAPITAL LANGUAGES Albania 11,082 54 Tirana Albanian, Greek 2,891,000 0.5 Andorra 180 90 Andorra Catalan, French, 76,000 0.5 la Vella Castilian Spanish, Portuguese Austria 32,386 67 Vienna German 8,531,000 0 Belarus 80,153 76 Minsk Belarusian, 9,470,000 -0.1 Russian, others Belgium 11,787 99 Brussels Flemish, French, 11,200,000 0.2 German Bosnia and 19,772 46 Sarajevo Bosnian, Herzegovina 3,828,000 -0.1 Croatian, Serbian Bulgaria 42,858 73 Sofia Bulgarian, 7,226,000 -0.5 Turkish, others Croatia 21,851 56 Zagreb Croatian, 4,238,000 -0.3 Serbian, others Czech 30,450 74 Prague Czech, Slovak Republic 10,511,000 0 Denmark 16,640 87 Copenhagen Danish, 5,639,000 0.1 Greenlandic, Faroese, German Estonia 17,462 68 Tallinn Estonian, 1,308,000 -0.1 Ukrainian, Russian, others Finland 150,929 85 Helsinki Finnish, Swedish, 5,463,000 0.1 others France 210,026 78 Paris French, regional 64,064,000 0.3 dialects Germany 137,879 73 Berlin German 80,900,000 -0.2 Greece 50,949 73 Athens Greek, English, 10,972,000 -0.1 French Hungary 35,919 69 Budapest Hungarian, others 9,893,000 -0.4 Iceland 39,777 95 Reykjavik Icelandic, others 328,000 0.7 Ireland 27,133 60 Dublin English, Gaelic 4,607,000 0.9 Italy 116,346 68 Rome Italian, German, 61,339,000 -0.1 French, others Kosovo (2) 4,212 38 Pristina Albanian, 1,841,000 1.1 Serbian, others Latvia 24,938 68 Riga Lettish, 1,990,000 -0.4 Lithuanian, Russian, others Liechtenstein 62 15 Vaduz German, Alemannic 37,000 0.4 dialect Lithuania 25,212 67 Vilnius Lithuanian, 2,930,000 -0.4 Polish, Russian, others Luxembourg 999 83 Luxembourg Luxembourgish, 556,000 0.4 German, French Macedonia 9,928 65 Skopje Macedonian, 2,066,000 0.2 Albanian, others Malta 122 100 Valletta Maltese, English 427,000 0.2 Moldova 13,067 42 Chisinau Moldovan, 4,110,000 0 Russian, Gagauz Monaco 1 100 Monaco French, English, 37,000 -0.1 Italian, Monegasgue Montenegro 5,333 64 Podgorica Serbian, 619,000 0.3 Montenegrin, Bosnian, Albanian Netherlands 16,158 67 Amsterdam Dutch 16,852,000 0.2 Norway 148,721 80 Oslo Norwegian, 5,138,000 0.4 Finnish Poland 120,726 61 Warsaw Polish 38,479,000 -0.1 Portugal 35,603 61 Lisbon Portuguese, 10,396,000 -0.2 Mirandese Romania 92,043 54 Bucharest Romanian, 20,015,000 -0.3 Hungarian, German Russia (3) 6,601,700 74 Moscow Russian, others 143,747,000 0 San Marino 24 94 San Marino Italian 33,000 0.3 Serbia 29,922 59 Belgrade Serbian, 7,129,000 -0.5 Hungarian, Bosniak, others Slovakia 18,932 54 Bratislava Slovak, Hungarian 5,421,000 0.1 Slovenia 7,827 50 Ljubljana Slovenian, 2,061,000 0.1 Serbian, Croatian, others Spain 195,364 77 Madrid Castilian 46,453,000 0.1 Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basgue Sweden 172,750 84 Stockholm Swedish, Finnish 9,689,000 0.2 Switzerland 15,940 74 Bern German, French, 8,187,000 0.2 Italian, Romansch, others Turkey (4) 303,224 77 Ankara Turkish, Kurdish, 77,193,000 1.1 Arabic Ukraine (5) 233,062 69 Kiev Ukrainian, 42,900,000 -0.4 Russian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian United 93,851 80 English, Welsh, Kingdom 64,542,000 0.3 Scottish, Gaelic (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) Vatican City 109 acres 100 Vatican Italian, Latin, 842 0 City French others AREA (SO MI) POLITICAL SYSTEM & COUNTRY POPULATION HEAD OF GOVERNMENT Albania 11,082 Presidential-parliamentary democracy; 2,891,000 Prime Minister Edi Rama Andorra 180 Presidential-parliamentary democracy; 76,000 Head of Government Antoni Marti Petit Austria 32,386 Parliamentary democracy; 8,531,000 Chancellor Werner Faymann Belarus 80,153 Presidential dictatorship; 9,470,000 President Aleksandr Lukashenko Belgium 11,787 Parliamentary democracy; 11,200,000 Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo Bosnia and 19,772 Presidential-parliamentary democracy Herzegovina 3,828,000 (transitional); rotating Chairman of the Presidency (1) Bulgaria 42,858 Parliamentary democracy; 7,226,000 Prime Minister-designate Boiko Borisov * Croatia 21,851 Presidential-parliamentary democracy; 4,238,000 Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic Czech 30,450 Parliamentary democracy; Republic 10,511,000 Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka Denmark 16,640 Parliamentary democracy; 5,639,000 Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt Estonia 17,462 Parliamentary democracy; 1,308,000 Prime Minister Taavi Roivas Finland 150,929 Presidential-parliamentary democracy; 5,463,000 President Sauli Niinisto France 210,026 Presidential-parliamentary democracy; 64,064,000 President Frangois Hollande Germany 137,879 Parliamentary democracy; 80,900,000 Chancellor Angela Merkel Greece 50,949 Parliamentary democracy; 10,972,000 Prime Minister Antonis Samaras Hungary 35,919 Parliamentary democracy; 9,893,000 Prime Minister Viktor Orban Iceland 39,777 Parliamentary democracy; 328,000 Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson Ireland 27,133 Parliamentary democracy; 4,607,000 Prime Minister Enda Kenny Italy 116,346 Parliamentary democracy; 61,339,000 Prime Minister Matteo Renzi Kosovo (2) 4,212 Presidential-parliamentary 1,841,000 system...