Urbanization and the Paradox of Rural Population Decline: Racial and Regional Variation

Academic Article


  • The authors redress the commonplace narrative of rural decline. Data from the decennial censuses since 1980 reveal that rural growth is often counted as metro growth; that is, it is added to the expanding universe of metro counties. First, nonmetro counties (defined in 1980) grew from 55 million people in 1980 to roughly 70 million in 2020. Yet, because of nonmetro-to-metro reclassification, the 2020 census reports a nonmetro population of only 46 million. Second, nonmetro growth has been due almost entirely to endogenous growth of minority populations. Reclassification transferred disproportionate shares of America’s rural White population to the metro side of the demographic ledger, leaving behind rural minorities. Third, these racial differences in growth–both endogenous population growth and growth due to reclassification–are most apparent in the South, where most rural minorities live. Our goal is to provide both substantive and didactic lessons for studying population growth and decline.
  • Authors

  • Lichter, Daniel T
  • Johnson, Kenneth
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • January 2023
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 237802312211498
  • End Page

  • 237802312211498
  • Volume

  • 9