Resource Library

ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

ENCYCLOPEDIC ENTRY

distribution

distribution

Distribution refers to the way something is spread out or arranged over a geographic area

Grades

5 - 12+

Subjects

Economics, Engineering, Geography, Human Geography, Mathematics, Social Studies

Powered by
Morgan Stanley

Distribution refers to the way something is spread out or arranged over a geographic area. The concept of distribution can be applied to nearly everything on Earth, from animal and plant species, to disease infections, weather patterns, and man-made structures.

Many of the things geographers study are found in some places, but not in the others. This means these patterns occur in certain distributions over the Earth's surface. Geographers look for and try to explain any patterns that may occur. "Distribution" refers to the way something is spread out or arranged over an area. Recognizing distributions on a map is a starting point for many geographic studies. Geographers look for and try to explain any patterns that may occur.

Some distributions can be seen visually. The number of barns in a farming community can be seen from an airplane, for example.

Visual information is not always accurate or available, however. Areas may be too big to see, and some areas are not visible at all. These patterns of distribution need to be put on a map. World population is a good example of information that has to be mapped. Geographers can’t count the number of people in an area from the air. They rely on many types of information, such as census data, to determine the distribution of people in a certain area.

To understand distribution patterns, it is important to understand other factors, such as climate, landforms, and vegetation. For example, the human population distribution shows very few people living in Asia’s arid Gobi Desert. The desert offers few resources important for survival.

Conflict and economy can also influence distribution patterns. Thousands of Iraqi citizens left their country after the Iraq War began in 2003. Population distribution shows many Iraqis now living in Syria and Jordan.

The poor economy in rural areas of China have led millions of people to seek employment in huge urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai. Working in factories and the service industry (hotels, restaurants) is often more profitable than farming. The distribution of rural and urban populations in China has become much more dramatic as a result.

Distribution is the way something is spread out over an area—it does not tell geographers why or how it is spread out.

One topic doctors and biologists study is distribution of the disease malaria. Malaria is found mainly in parts of the world that are tropical and humid. Malaria is common in these areas because the mosquitoes that carry and transmit the disease thrive in hot, humid climates. The distribution of human malarial infections shows high concentrations in tropical regions, and low concentrations in non-tropical regions.

Fast Fact

Distribution and the Economy
Distribution is an important part of economics, as well as geography. In the economic sense, distribution is the process where the producer of a good or service makes it available to consumers. A farmer may grow a crop, and then distribute it to stores or supermarkets.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Writers
Kim Rutledge, Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel, Melissa McDaniel
Santani Teng, Santani Teng
Hilary Hall, Hilary Hall
Tara Ramroop, Tara Ramroop
Erin Sprout, Erin Sprout
Jeff Hunt, Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau, Diane Boudreau
Hilary Costa, Hilary Costa
Illustrators
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society,
Tim Gunther, Tim Gunther
Editors
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West, Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne,
Producer
National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact ngimagecollection@natgeo.com for more information and to obtain a license. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. She or he will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to him or her, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.

Media

If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.

Text

Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.

Interactives

Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources