The Landscape of Loss: Connecting County-Level Depopulation and the Demographic Components of Change

Authors: Rachel Franklin*, Brown University, Eric Seymour, Brown University, Will Violette, Brown University
Topics: Population Geography, Quantitative Methods, Rural Geography
Keywords: depopulation, population change, migration
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although the United States’ population has increased with every decennial census, ongoing redistribution—the outcome of migration, but also regional differences in fertility and mortality—has meant that, even as some areas grow rapidly, others face the challenge of continued population loss. At one level, the classification of areas as shrinking is straightforward; this label can be attached to any place that lost inhabitants in a given time period. A deeper look, however, dispels the facile categorization of places as growing or shrinking: history of change matters, as does the geographic context in which change is occurring. Moreover, the loss of inhabitants occurs in a variety of ways, demographically speaking: loss of population through outmigration (or even lack of net international migration) is different from loss through natural decrease—an excess of deaths over births. And how a place depopulates is important. It provides important information about the fundamental attractiveness of a place (do people continue to move there, on net?), and helps explain the changing characteristics of inhabitants (e.g., their age composition). To illustrate the value of this perspective, we use U.S. counties as the unit of analysis to differentiate shrinking areas based on their temporal and spatial context of change. We then assess the demographic sources of loss for different types of areas, focusing on domestic and international migration, as well as natural increase/decrease. Our results highlight the diversity of kinds of depopulation that exist across the U.S. county landscape and emphasize the role of demography.

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