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The Great Urban / Rural Divide

Our fledgling republic was much different in the 18th Century. At that time the thirteen colonies were predominantly rural and agrarian. In fact the first original states were 80% agrarian and 20% urban and stand in stark contrast to the urban rural distribution that shapes our country in the 21st Century.  From the very beginning of our democracy, there has been a gulf between these two spheres of influence. This divide has existed since the founding of our nation when farmers were the elites and there was no urban political coalition to speak of since there was no city larger than Philadelphia with a meager 40,000 person population in 1775.  Until the latter part of the 20th Century, the prevailing consensus was hostile toward the urban segment of our society. Throughout our history urban areas were viewed as places that bred disease and poverty.  During the period of this American Revolution and the establishment of the Articles of Confederation and the signing and ratification of the U.S Constitution this bias against urbanism was ingrained into the DNA of the Constitution. And this bias had a profound impact on the language and sentiment that was embedded within the Constitution. The founding fathers had to make certain concessions during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in order to reach a compromise to achieve the goal of approving the Constitution by the majority of the colonial states. These compromises forever altered our Constitution and codified this rural bias.

Today the geopolitical population has completely been flipped to 80% urban and 20% rural, just the opposite from the time of the founding of our country. The urbanization of the United States has progressed throughout our entire history. Over the last two centuries, the United States has been transformed from a predominantly rural, agricultural nation into an urbanized, industrial and connected one. This was largely due to the worldwide Industrial Revolution and the rapid industrialization of the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In 1790, only about one out of every twenty Americans (on average) lived in urban areas (cities), but this ratio had dramatically changed to one out of four by 1870, one out of two by 1920, two out of three in the 1960's, and four out of five in the 2000's.  The urbanization of the United States has occurred over a period of many years, with the nation only attaining urban-majority status between 1910 and 1920.  Currently, on average over 80% of the U.S. population resides in urban areas, a percentage which is still increasing today.

The United States Census Bureau changed its classification and definition of urban areas in 1950 and again in 1990 to reflect this rapid change. Urbanization was fastest in the Northeastern United States, which acquired an urban majority by 1880.  Some Northeastern U.S. states had already acquired an urban majority before then, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island (majority-urban by 1850),and New York (majority-urban since about 1870). The Midwestern and Western United States became urban majority in the 1910's, while the Southern United States only became urban-majority after World War II, in the 1950's. The Western U.S. is the most urbanized part of the country today, followed closely by the Northeastern United States. The Southern U.S. experienced rapid industrialization after World War II, and is now over three-quarters urban, having almost the same urban percentage in 2010 as the Midwestern United States. 

Just four U.S. states have a rural majority today, and even some of these states (such as Mississippi) are continuing to urbanize. Some U.S. states currently have an urban percentage around or above 90%, an urbanization rate almost unheard of a century ago. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80.7 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas as of the 2010 Census, a boost from the 79 percent counted in 2000. That brings the country's total urban population to 249,253,271, a number attained via a growth rate of 12.1 percent between 2000 and 2010, outpacing the nation as a whole, which grew at 9.7 percent. There are today, fourteen States that have total populations of less than two million people, whereas the 33 largest MSA’s each have a population greater than two million people.  

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