In this brief, authors Kenneth Johnson and Daniel Lichter summarize their peer reviewed article in Demography that provides cautionary lessons regarding the commonplace narrative of widespread rural decline and urban growth.

Johnson and Lichter report that since 1970, 25 percent of counties containing 22 percent of the current U.S. population have been reclassified from nonmetropolitan to metropolitan status because of population and economic growth. All of the growth in the share of the population that lives in metropolitan counties is due to nonmetropolitan counties transforming into metropolitan counties. This transfer of population and territory through reclassification calls into question the commonplace narrative of urban growth and rural decline occurring through an emptying out of rural America.

The authors conclude that for urbanizing rural areas, the demographic future looks bright. They are much less sanguine about the many remote, thinly populated, and declining areas “left behind” in rural America, where the prospects for future population gain and development seem more limited than ever.


Carsey School of Public Policy

Publication Date

Summer 9-8-2020


National Issue Brief No. 151


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2020. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.





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