, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 589-613

On the ‘Urbanness’ of Metropolitan Areas: Testing the Homogeneity Assumption, 1970–2000

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Abstract

In recent decades, population dynamics, have made definitions of what localities are rural or urban somewhat unclear. The vast majority of demographic work has simply used metropolitan classifications with various forms of a non-metropolitan residual (e.g., adjacent to metro versus non-adjacent). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) periodically redefines metropolitan areas, which makes temporal comparisons difficult. In fact, some demographers have offered the idea that, due to these shifting reclassifications, the so-called “rural rebound” is a misnomer, in that non-metropolitan counties that transitioned to metropolitan status were, in fact, already more ‘urban’ than those that did not become reclassified as metropolitan (Johnson et al 2005). This argument depends largely on the assumption of homogeneity in rural or urban ‘character’ in those counties. Following arguments by others (Wilkinson 1991; Isserman 2001; Bogue 1950), we take population and land use into account to examine whether these transitional counties were more or less urban than comparable others, all at the county level for the contiguous 48 states for 1970–2000. Our results show that adjacent non-metropolitan counties that were later reclassified as metropolitan were indeed characterized by a larger population and heavier urban land cover than those not making this transition. However, the results also show that metropolitan areas were also quite heterogeneous in terms of traditionally rural activities. A discussion of the homogeneity assumption in demographers’ conceptualization of metropolitan areas is included.