For several decades, city populations have been growing much faster than populations in rural areas and small towns. Indeed, many worry about a brain drain of the best and brightest leaving rural regions for the bright lights of the city. What’s motivating this shift? NC State University economist Mike Walden answers.
“You can see this clearly in North Carolina if you look at North Carolina’s large metro areas like Charlotte and the Triangle. They are expanding very rapidly. Some of our rural counties actually are losing populations. So we do see this move to more urban North Carolina.
“There are a lot of factors behind it. For example, for college-aged kids, universities are often in the big cities, so they move from their rural town to the big city. Also, many of the emerging industries that we’ve seen over the last couple decades — technology, medicine and finance – (are) often also in the large cities because they interact with the universities and they have access to that college labor supply. And, here’s a fact that many people perhaps wouldn’t think about: If you have two university-educated people who are married or partnered, it’s often easier for them both to find jobs in a bigger city rather than in a small area.
“And then lastly, we have smaller household sizes. Families aren’t having as many children, so household size is going down. This means that a household doesn’t need as much space. Space is cheaper in rural areas, so it makes the cost of living in the city a little less onerous.
“A lot of these factors are going on, and economists think these factors will continue in the near future.”