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  Chapter One:

  Size and Growth Rate
  Life Expectancy
  Age Structure
  Population Drift
  Urban, Rural, Suburban
  Foreign Born
  Large Cities



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Urban, Rural, Suburban

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At the beginning of the century, the American people were mostly rural. At the end, they were largely urban. Most of these urban dwellers lived in the suburbs.
The migration from rural areas to the cities and from cities to the suburbs changed the face of the nation at least as much as the movement between regions. At the beginning of the century, 60 percent of the population lived in or around places with fewer than 2,500 inhabitants, and most were involved in farming. In 1990, only 25 percent lived within or in the vicinity of such small communities, and very few had any connection with farming (see page 26). 

The cities grew rapidly during the first half of the century, as rural people left the land and the immigrants of the early 1900s flowed into the cities (see upper chart). The combined population of the ten largest American cities in 1900 was slightly more than 9 million. The ten largest cities of 1950 had about 22 million residents. Because so many people left the cities for the suburbs during the second half of the century, most cities experienced little growth and many actually lost population. The ten largest cities of 1998 had about the same combined population as those of 1950. 

The growth of the nation’s suburbs, in contrast, continued throughout the century. The share of the U.S. population that lived in the suburbs doubled from 1900 to 1950 and doubled again from 1950 to 2000 (see lower chart). Frequently, the suburbs of one city expanded until they encountered the suburbs of another, creating urban corridors such as those that connect Chicago and Milwaukee or San Jose and San Francisco. Some of these corridors combined to create even larger configurations. At the end of the century, an urban corridor extended more than 700 miles from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Maine.

Chapter 1 chart 6

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series A 57 and A 69; SA 1999, table 46. For suburbs from 1910 to 1960, see Ben J. Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon, This U.S.A.: An Unexpected Family Portrait of 194,067,296 Americans Drawn from the Census (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965). For suburbs from 1970 to 1990, see Mark Baldassare, “Suburban Communities,” Annual Review of Sociology 18 (1992):475–494.


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