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Urban-rural divide is escalated by big city reliance on hinterlands

New research from a team from Sweden’s Linköping University shows that large cities rely on their hinterlands to sustain urban growth. Therefore, the urban-rural divide regarding both economic prosperity and chance for personal opportunities is widened. This study, published in Science Advances, provides further insight into the growing levels of inequality between rural and urban areas in many countries.

“Our research shows that people who leave rural areas for cities are, on average, better educated and have higher cognitive abilities,” said lead author Dr. Marc Keuschnigg, from Linköping University’s Institute for Analytical Sociology. “This selective migration fuels the higher than expected outputs of big cities and, at the same time, adds to the cumulative decline of less populated regions.”

Selective migration of individuals from rural areas to big cities is a huge part of urban growth, which bucks a previous popular theory that urban growth is self-reinforcing due to the +15% phenomenon.

Urban scaling analyzes the benefits and detriments of city life and shows the link between a city’s wealth, innovation, crime, and disease spread, and population size. Urban scaling shows that population size is the most important factor in city growth. For example, when a city’s population is doubled, total city income, number of patents, romantic breakups, and residential moves increase by 115%, proving that individuals’ productivity and pace increase as the city grows.

The extra 15% is “superlinear scaling,” which urban researchers believe is a direct response to the influx of ideas being exchanged between people in a dense urban environment. They believe that the +15% phenomenon is self-reinforcing because urban growth benefits all aspects of society.

However, this recent study has found that the “self-reinforcing” +15% phenomenon explains only half of the increased social interconnectivity in cities. More so, the phenomenon is bolstered by the differences in population characteristics within metropolitan areas.

“Our results are of considerable policy relevance, because they identify the migration of talented people from smaller areas to larger cities as an important force behind observed agglomeration effects,” Dr. Marc Keuschnigg concluded.

By Olivia Harvey, Staff Writer

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