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Perspectives on Recent Demographic Change in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan America

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H. "Perspectives on Recent Demographic Change in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan America." PSC Research Report No. 92-248. 7 1992.

Few demographic phenomena have received the kind of attention from academic social scientists, policymakers, and the popular press that was given to the "nonmetropolitan turnaround" of the 1970s. This research draws on some of the ideas that grew out of this rich literature that was offered to explain the redistribution reversals of the 1970s. It assumes that each decade's redistribution patterns are not disjoint events, but are shaped by common social and economic forces that evolve over time. Three broad approaches (Period Explanations, Regional Restructuring Perspective, and Deconcentration Perspective) that have been proposed to explain the redistribution reversals of the 1970s are examined. This is followed by an evaluation of how these explanations fare in accounting for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan demographic trends over the 1980-90 period. Additional sections discuss the fate of the rural renaissance and how aspects of the nation's current demographic structure might mediate future redistribution patterns.

Findings suggest a less rosy growth scenario for rural and nonmetropolitan communities than was forecasted ten years ago, when the 1980 census results were presented. The "rural renaissance" predictions of that time failed to disentangle the mix of period, restructuring, and deconcentration influences that merged to provide the illusion that an era of dispersed settlement had begun. The social and economic "period effects" of the 1980s were unduly harsh on much of nonmetropolitan America, and this experience should not prompt us now to be overly pessimistic about the future. On the other hand, it should serve to remind us that a strong reliance on resource-based and low-skilled industries is not a recipe for stable demographic growth.

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