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The Revival of Metropolitan Population Growth in the United States: An Assessment of Findings from the 1990 Census

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H., and Alden Jr Speare. 1992. "The Revival of Metropolitan Population Growth in the United States: An Assessment of Findings from the 1990 Census." Population and Development Review, 18(1): 129-46.

This article, assesses metropolitan-area growth patterns in the United States during the 1980s as revealed by 1990 census data. The authors evaluate these patterns against various explanations that were proposed to account for the altered developed-world redistribution tendencies of the 1970s.

Findings suggest some return to traditional urbanization patterns, replacing patterns of growth heavily shaped by the industrial declines of the 1970s. Nonmetropolitan growth levels dropped considerably while metropolitan growth increased. As a group, large metropolitan areas registered higher gains than smaller areas. Growth in the Sunbelt region slowed somewhat, particularly in small interior areas and in the South. However, this interior growth slowdown was countered by a continued strong growth of large and moderate-sized metropolitan areas in the coastal divisions of the Sunbelt. The U.S. trends of the late 1980s are reminiscent of traditional metropolitan growth. They also tend to confirm that both the period and the regional restructuring explanations of the past two decades' redistribution patterns hold more validity than deconcentration explanations that forecast a continued dispersal of the national population. Those areas that served as national and regional centers of finance, corporate headquarters, and advanced services were able to overcome 1970s manufacturing-related declines and the early-1980s recessions to display fairly consistent population growth. On the other hand, growth prospects are less predictable in specialized areas, built around one or two main industries, that can give rise to boom- and-bust experiences such as those shown by Houston, Denver, and several resort and retirement areas over the past two decades.

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