A map showing the division of the world into four main continents.  The Americas are shaded in light blue, and Europe, Africa and Asia make up the Acro-Eurasia region and are shaded in light orange.  Australia is shaded in light green and Antarctica is shaded in light grey.

Geographic facts about the world’s continents

Continents are generally defined as a large, continuous landmass that is separated from other landmasses by oceans or other significant natural barriers (Lewis and Wigen 1997). This definition of a continent helps to help separate a continent like Australia, which is also technically a very large island, from other landforms such as small islands or peninsulas.

However, this definition is not absolute.

Continents, according to some geographers and geologists, can be defined by geological or regional criteria. For example, one definition of a continent is based on its location on tectonic plates. The Indian subcontinent is part of the Asian continent because it lies on the Eurasian tectonic plate.

Historical and cultural factors can play a role in how some geographers define the number of continents, which is why Europe and Asia are often considered separate continents despite sharing the Eurasian tectonic plates.

How many continents are there?

Depending on how you divide them, the total number of continents in the world depends on the division used.

Four continent model

The minimum number of continents is four: Africa, Eurasia, America, Antarctica and Australia. Known as the four-continent model, this classifies the Earth’s landmasses into these four basic continents, all of which are completely surrounded by water.

This model takes a structural view of the Earth’s land masses, focusing on large, contiguous regions that separate the great natural barrier formed by the world’s oceans. From this perspective, Europe, Asia and Africa are grouped into one giant continent called Afro-Eurasia, reflecting the fact that these land masses are part of a contiguous expanse of land. Likewise, North and South America are combined into one continent referred to as America.

Model map of the four continents. Map: Caitlin Dempsey, Sphere Natural Earth Map Projection. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

Seven continents model

The combination of recognizing Africa, Europe, and Asia as separate continents changes the number to seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.

In this model, Europe and Asia are considered separate continents, even though they are part of the same tectonic plate, largely due to historical and cultural differences. Likewise, North America and South America are classified as distinct continents, separated by the narrow Isthmus of Panama.

A map showing the different continents in light tones for a total of seven continents.
A map showing the model of the seven continents. Map: Caitlin Dempsey.

Other combination models for continents

Depending on how continents are recognized, there can be 4, 5, 6 or 7 continents in total. The animated GIF below shows how each of these continental models can add up to a total of a different number of continents.


Some organizations such as the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee rule out recognizing Antarctica because it is uninhabited.

What is the largest continent?

The continent of Asia has the largest area on Earth, with a total area of ​​44.6 million square kilometers. Africa is the second largest continent in terms of area, with a total area of ​​30.4 million square kilometers.

What is the smallest continent?

The smallest continent is Australia with a total area of ​​8.5 million square kilometers. Although Australia’s size as a continent is relatively small compared to other continents, it is surrounded by the Indian and Pacific Oceans, meeting the criteria for a continent as a large land mass isolated by a natural barrier.

What is the most populated continent?

Asia has the largest population of all continents. Africa is the second most populous continent.

Table of continent size and population

Continent Area (km2) Area (m2) Percentage of world land area Population estimates 2021 Percentage of total world population
Asia 44,614,000 17,226,000 29.60% 4.7 billion 60%
Africa 30,365,000 11,724,000 20.20% 1.4 billion 17%
north america 24,230,000 9,360,000 16.40% 600 million 7.60%
south america 17,814,000 6,878,000 11.90% 430 million 5.60%
Antarctica* 14,200,000 5,500,000 9.40% 0 0%
Europe 10,000,000 3,900,000 6.80% 750 million 9.80%
Oceania (Australia) 8,511,000 3,286,000 5.70% 40 million 0.50%
* Antarctica is the only continent without a permanent human population.

The data used for this table is taken from: “World Population Prospects”. World Population Prospects, 2022 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The data used for this table is taken from: “World Population Prospects”. World Population Prospects, 2022 Revision. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


Lewis, Martin W.; Karen E. Wiggin (1997). The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metagraphy. Berkeley: University of California Press. s. 21.

Related Resources:

Continents and population density: Identify the size and population of each continent of the world. An essential worksheet for students to learn about the different continents and calculate the population density of each.

More geographical articles of interest


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