Demographic Change

Beyond the Urban–Rural Divide

Authored by: Neil Argent

Routledge International Handbook of Rural Studies

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138804371
eBook ISBN: 9781315753041
Adobe ISBN: 9781317619864


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At the most basic level of analysis, rural societies are constituted by the people that live within their spaces and places. Of course, it is the many and various social, cultural and economic relationships among these people as well as their demographic characteristics that can be said to shape the distinctiveness of rural places (Panelli, 2006). Increasingly, these places are being moulded by relationships that are ‘stretched out’ across space, from the local through to global scales. Rapidly increasing levels of personal migration and mobility into and out of rural regions across the globe, emanating from seemingly ineluctable processes of modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation, are drawing rural and urban together, unsettling long-established dichotomous notions of the two entities’ apparently separate natures. Simultaneously, and given that voluntary human physical mobility is always inextricably intertwined with social mobility, these population shifts are centrally implicated in the creation, or persistence, of sociospatial inequality. This intertwining of demographic, socioeconomic and political change can be seen in such diverse instances as the ‘gentrification of the countryside’ in Western, high-amenity rural regions and localities, and the plight of the ‘left behind’ populations in rural China and in other, Western nations, as the young migrate to take up more remunerative employment in burgeoning industrial cities. Rural populations within these different societies are also changing across time and space in structural terms. For example, long-term, secular trends towards declining fertility and smaller household sizes are combining with variegated patterns of international and internal migration to produce altered national and regional population growth trajectories and age–sex structures. One of the key outcomes of these dynamics is accelerated and structural ageing of rural communities, a demographic trend that is raising a number of challenges for service provision and community development, particularly in more remote areas.

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