Rural Migration

August 15, 1975

Report Outline
Urban Exodus of the Seventies
Past American Migration Trends
Effects of New Population Shift
Special Focus

Urban Exodus of the Seventies

Unforeseen Reversal of Old Migration Pattern

A retired couple returns to the small town they left during the Depression. A young couple decides to raise their children outside the city. A manufacturer chooses to build his company's new plant in a rural industrial park. A farmer's daughter stays home and attends the local college. All of these actions form part of a new and largely unforeseen trend in American life. In the words of demographer Calvin L. Beale: “The vast rural-to-urban migration of people that was the common pattern of U.S. population movement in the decades after World War II has been halted and, on balance, even reversed. In the eyes of many Americans, the appeal of major urban areas has diminished and the attractiveness of rural and small town communities has increased, economically and otherwise.”

For the first time in this century, and perhaps in the history of the United States, the population in metropolitan areas is growing more slowly than elsewhere. This reversal of a longtime trend is all the more pronounced because urban migration remained strong through the 1960s. During that decade, metropolitan counties grew almost twice as fast as other counties. Census Bureau estimates for the first three years of this decade portrayed the turnabout: metropolitan areas grew only 2.9 per cent while non-metropolitan areas gained 4.2 per cent. Other Census Bureau estimates indicate that except for natural growth—more births than deaths—the metropolitan areas actually would have lost population. From March 1970 to March 1974, almost six million people moved out while only slightly more than four million moved in.

America is not about to become a rural society; about three-quarters of its 211 million people now live in cities and hundreds of thousands will continue to move to cities each year. Metropolitan life will continue to dominate the United States for the foreseeable future, as it does every modern nation. To some extent the new figures still reflect this country's urban orientation. They show that about five-eighths of the gain in non-metropolitan population occurred in counties adjacent to metropolitan areas. This growth could be seen as a continuation of urban and suburban sprawl. But remote rural counties have also been growing more rapidly than metropolitan counties. Thus it appears that there has been a significant shift toward rural America, both to the open country and the small town. The causes of this shift are evidence of profound changes in American life, and the effects on American culture and public policy may be no less deep.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Rural America
Dec. 13, 2019  Rural Health
Mar. 31, 2017  Reviving Rural Economies
May 09, 2003  Crisis on the Plains
Jul. 20, 1990  The Continuing Decline of Rural America
May 06, 1988  Should Family Farms Be Saved?
Nov. 23, 1979  Rural Health Care
Aug. 15, 1975  Rural Migration
Feb. 09, 1939  Economic Changes in the Southern States
Regional Planning and Urbanization