Population density statistics can often be misleading. For example the Netherlands are considered to be one of the world's densest countries, but the explanation is that essentially 100% (and even more, if you count man made land extensions) is usable for building cities. On other hand of the spectrum, China is moderately dense but a significant chunk of their territory is covered by deserts and mountain ranges.

Is there a rating of population densities that takes these factors into account?

  • You probably need to be more specific about what you mean by "usable land". If you want density by arable land, that figure is readily available (e.g.) – smatterer Jul 30 '18 at 1:56
  • I'm referring to land usable for urban dwelling, not just arable land. As mentioned, its close to 100% for the Netherlands and less for other countries. – JonathanReez Jul 30 '18 at 2:00
  • If by "land usable for urban dwelling" you mean someplace higher than El Alto or hotter than Kuwait or colder than Yakutsk or drier than Antofagasta, that doesn't exclude much territory. I suggested arable land as a proxy for hinterland capable of supporting a city. – smatterer Jul 30 '18 at 2:18

It's difficult to find a population density measure with the criteria you've requested because the very definition of land usable for urban development is hard to define. Today we do have massive urban development in areas considered prohibitive less than 100 years ago. Also the floor-area ratio is quite different depending on culture.

Nevertheless you do have a physiological density, also known as real population density (as opposed to arithmetic density) , whose definition is the following:

The physiological density or real population density is the number of people per unit area of arable land.

A higher physiological density suggests that the available agricultural land is being used by more and may reach its output limit sooner than a country that has a lower physiological density. Egypt is a notable example, with physiological density reaching that of Bangladesh, despite much desert.

This is a map of the physiological density in the world:

Physiological density world

Wikipedia has a list for physiological density. The World Bank keeps the data of arable land per person.

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    Some of the places with "no data" would strictly applying the definition lead to a really huge density. For example, there is no arable land in Antarctica, but it has a non-zero, albeit very low, population, so the physiological density of Antarctica is technically infinite. – ohwilleke Jul 30 '18 at 23:08
  • @ohwilleke True:p, these are statistical indicators. Most people won't take the time to build composites to handle a myriad of situations (unlike in an index). Although a density with 0% arable land would be technically undefined, not infinite. – armatita Jul 31 '18 at 8:38
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    @ohwilleke the population of Antarctica could probably survive by fishing and hunting some birds :) – JonathanReez Aug 6 '18 at 17:58
  • @JonathanReez They could trade penguin meat for syrup and feed everyone with snow cones to their heart's delight. – ohwilleke Aug 6 '18 at 19:41

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