Better and more detailed analyses of global human exposure to hazards and associated disaster risk require improved geoinformation on population distribution and densities. In particular, issues of temporal and spatial resolution are important for determining the capacity for assessing changes in these distributions. We combine the best-available global population grids with latest data on volcanoes, to assess and characterize the worldwide distribution of population from 1975–2015 in relation to recent volcanism. Both Holocene volcanoes and those where there is evidence of significant eruptions are considered. A comparative analysis is conducted for the volcanic hot spots of Southeast Asia and Central America. Results indicate that more than 8% of the world’s 2015 population lived within 100 km of a volcano with at least one significant eruption, and more than 1 billion people (14.3%) lived within 100 km of a Holocene volcano, with human concentrations in this zone increasing since 1975 above the global population growth rate. While overall spatial patterns of population density have been relatively stable in time, their variation with distance is not monotonic, with a higher concentration of people between 10 and 20 km from volcanoes. We find that in last 40 years in Southeast Asia the highest population growth rates have occurred in close proximity to volcanoes (within 10 km), whereas in Central America these are observed farther away (beyond 50 km), especially after 1990 and for Holocene volcanoes.