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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Economy of Cities Helped Drive 19th Century Urbanization

Philippe Bocquier and Sandra Bree have just published an article in Demographic Research that takes us back to 19th century France in search of the major drivers of the early parts of the urban transition in that country. Consistent with what you already know from my book, the death rates in urban places in France in the 19th century were higher than in the countryside, while the urban birth rates were a bit lower (although even in rural areas the birth rate was dropping in the mid to late 19th century in France). So, the rate of natural increase was lower in cities than outside of cities, and it was clearly the economic attraction of the cities that led people in rural places to migrate to the cities.

As I read the article (which is very dense with a lot of discussion about data, methods, and results) I couldn't help but think back to the trip that my wife and I made to Denmark a couple of years ago, in which we visited the rural village where her maternal grandfather had been born and raised late in the 19th century (the village of Tranekaer, on Langeland--an island about a two-hour drive from Copenhagen). We actually found the thatched roof house where he was born, because one of her uncles had been there right after WWII (he had been stationed in Germany), and we knew what we were looking for. It seemed like a good-sized house, but the local historian showed us the census forms for a year close to when he was born and we confirmed her suspicion that several families were sharing the house. Indeed, she told us unequivocally that it was rural poverty that drove people to migrate. Cities were an obvious choice, because they were just ramping up their level of economic activity in the 19th century, but for many Scandinavians the choice was rural America. A woman at a local shop told us that every summer she is visited by Americans whose family members migrated from Denmark to the upper midwest of the U.S. to start a new life, which is exactly what my wife's grandfather and his family did--moving to South Dakota where they became successful farmers. 

Anyway, thanks to Philippe Bocquier and Sandra Bree for a very nice research article and for triggering that trip down memory lane!!

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