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Demographic Change along the Urban-Rural Gradient

Nov 07

Urban and rural living is decidedly distinct, with for example different primary economic activities, varying access to services including healthcare and education, and varying household arrangements. Demographic behaviour along the rural-urban gradient vary by the stage of the demographic and urban transitions reached. How different are rural and urban populations over the demographic transition? What is the role of internal migration in the diffusion of behaviour? Beyond the urban-rural dichotomy, differences in demographic behaviour over a range of urbanicity needs to be addressed.


Gradient of urbanicity in demographic research

The terms “rural” and “urban” are crude measures of settlement types, and there is actually no universal definition of what is considered urban. Going beyond the urban-rural dichotomy is an important step in addressing this. Indeed, much of the population in the world live in semi-urban, or peripheral settlements, suggesting that a continuum of urbanicity is much more relevant. Lumping towns with 5,000 people together with mega-cities hides the diversity of characteristics of settlements that people live in. Papers addressing these issues are welcome, particularly related to:

  • New technologies in defining urbanicity and how they help with population estimates (including satellite, cellphone or social media georeferenced data)
  • Numerous categories of urbanicity – contributions and constraints to demographic research
  • Demography of these “in-between” settlements
  • The role of the urban/rural gradient in demographic theories and in population policies


Diffusion of behaviours across rural & urban sectors

The urban sector is often considered to lead the first demographic transition. Mortality would decline first in the urban sector when infectious diseases begin to recede. Fertility decline would also begin in the urban sector. Is this pattern really universal? How does the decline in vital rates shift between sectors? Is it the availability of sanitation infrastructure in the urban sector that drives the urban mortality decline? Is the idea of limiting childbearing diffused to the rural sector? Or do both sectors want to limit childbearing but unmet need for contraception impede the fertility transition?

In addition, while the second demographic transition follows spatial patterns, there is no univocal evidence of urban and rural variance in features of the second transition such as non-marital cohabitation or single parent households. Papers relating to the diffusion of behaviour across the rural-urban gradient are encouraged, with special attention to the following:

  • Contemporary and historic fertility decline
  • Contemporary and historic mortality decline
  • Changes in gender, family composition and living arrangements 


Migration and circulation within countries

Internal migration is more common than international migration, yet intra-country movements of populations is often left out of the limelight. People may move between regions within countries, between rural and urban sectors or within rural areas and within urban areas. The moves may be long term, temporary, or seasonal. Some may opt to live in one area and to work in another. Push and pull factors have different relevance across an individual's life course and events such as the start of education or marriage are important triggers for residential mobility. Little research addresses these mobility patterns, and especially how they determine rural and urban populations’ characteristics and behaviours. How are these internal movements measured? How would mobility and circulation affect demographic estimations? What is the extent of intra-urban migration – the supposedly final stage of the mobility transition? Contributions focusing on the following themes are encouraged:

  • Cyclic and seasonal migration
  • Satellite towns
  • Circulation decisions over the life course
  • Rural-rural and urban-urban migration


Urbanisation, economic inequalities and ecology

Urbanisation is often associated with economic progress, accompanied by industrialisation and complex economies, as well as mass education and democratisation. Yet this relationship has also been challenged, taking into account the worsening inequalities and risks to the environment. Does urbanisation necessarily go hand-in-hand with economic growth? Does it lead to poverty? What are the advantages of urbanisation for sustainable development? On the one hand, dense settlements provide and distribute food and water more efficiently and leave green areas in-between them. On the other hand, local biodiversity is affected and rural land use is designated to provide food for the cities. What are the effects of different types of urbanisation on the environment? Papers addressing these questions are welcome.

  • The environment along the rural-urban gradient
  • The rural-urban gradient in relation to poverty and inequalities: spatial and historical approach
Event information
07/11/2019 - 08/11/2019
Centre de recherche en démographie, Université catholique de Louvain