This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Urban Sprawl Limits Intergenerational Mobility

Thanks go today to my son, Professor John Weeks, for linking me to a story summarizing research on the way in which urban sprawl can limit the upward mobility of children. Over the past two hundred years, as the world has moved from being almost entirely rural to being majority urban, cities have provided upward mobility on an unprecedented scale. But urban sprawl puts a spatial cramp in that process. 
Upward mobility is on the decline in the US. Once billed as a land of opportunity for the poor and hardworking, the country now offers little hope to people born in poverty. Writing in the latest issue of Landscape and Urban Planning, the researchers note that the "chance of upward mobility for Americans is just half that of the citizens of Denmark and many other European countries." A study from the Brookings Institution found that "39 percent of children born to parents in the top fifth of the income distribution will remain in the top fifth for life, while 42 percent of children born to parents in the bottom fifth income distribution will stay in that bottom fifth."
What researchers found, after intensive analysis, was that high-density urban areas were correlated with dramatically higher levels of upward mobility. As the compactness of a region doubles, they write, "the likelihood that a child born into the bottom fifth of the national income distribution will reach the top fifth by age 30 increases by about 41 percent." Spread-out urban sprawl, however, tends to maintain class distinctions from one generation to the next.
Urban sprawl is often criticized because as people spread out they use a lot more fuel driving around, and in the process they are probably building their homes on valuable agricultural land. But now we have another type of criticism--the social criticism layered onto the ecological one.

Keep in mind, though, that the research I discuss in my book emphasizes that we humans like to have it both ways--living near enough to the high density city to take advantage of it, but living far enough away so that we don't have to be annoyed by that high density. As with most things in life, there are no easy answers.


  1. I saw this and thought you would find it of interest:

    1. Yes, that's a very good bit--thanks for sharing!