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U.S. Metropolitan Area Population Growth 1960-1990: Census Trends and Explanations

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H., and Alden Jr Speare. "U.S. Metropolitan Area Population Growth 1960-1990: Census Trends and Explanations." PSC Research Report No. 91-212. 5 1991.

This paper presents an assessment of 1980-90 metropolitan area growth patterns and their explanations, based on the analysis of recently released 1990 Census data. It contrasts the 1980s growth experiences of the nation's 284 metropolitan areas (CMSAs and MSAs) with their experiences over the two previous decades. It also compares their growth experiences between 1980-85 and 1985-90.

This three-decade review suggests something of a return to more traditional urbanization patterns. Nonmetropolitan area growth has dropped considerably while metropolitan area gains have increased. Large metropolitan areas, as a group, registered higher gains than smaller sized areas. Sunbelt region growth has slowed, particularly in small interior areas, and in the South. However, this interior growth slowdown is countered by continued strong growth of large and moderate sized metropolitan areas in the coastal portions of the Sunbelt. Finally, the extremely high rates of population loss sustained by northern central cities in the 1970s have become reduced or turned to gains in most cases.

These 1980s tendencies toward greater reurbanization have become more accentuated in the last half of the decade. The 1980-85 to 1985-90 comparisons show higher levels of growth for the nation's largest metropolitan areas. There was also a small revival of growth for several midwest and rustbelt metropolitan areas that sustained declines in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, the shift to slower growth in the South and West regions was also accentuated in the latter part of the 1980s.

These 1980s trends toward large metropolitan gains, small metropolitan declines, and interior region growth slowdowns are reminiscent of urbanization patterns in the 1960s. They also tend to confirm that both the "period" and "regional restructuring" explanations of the past two decades' redistribution patterns hold more validity than the "deconcentration" explanation, which forecasted a continued dispersal of the national population.

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