International Handbook of Rural Demography

Volume 3 of the series International Handbooks of Population pp 17-34


Rural Natural Increase in the New Century: America’s Third Demographic Transition

  • Kenneth M. JohnsonAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology and Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire Email author 
  • , Daniel T. LichterAffiliated withDepartments of Policy Analysis and Management and Sociology, Cornell University

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This chapter examines nonmetropolitan demographic trends in the first decade of the 21st century, with a particular focus on natural increase. Demographic growth and change in rural America is influenced both by natural increase and net migration. The two represent distinctly different but intimately interrelated demographic processes. The relative influence of each in overall rural demographic change has varied from one decade to another. Our results clearly show that natural increase has re-emerged as a prominent demographic force in the growth of rural America in the first decade of the 21st century. Nearly 77% of the rural population growth since 2000 is due to natural increase. Perhaps paradoxically, natural increase has become more important demographically even as the volume of rural natural increase has declined. In numerous nonmetro counties, deaths now routinely exceed births. That natural decrease is rising sharply now at the same time that annual births nationwide are at levels not seen since the baby boom underscores the complex set of factors that influence the demographic structure of rural America. The growing presence of Hispanics introduces a new element to the demographic calculus of nonmetropolitan America. The rapid growth of the Hispanic population – fueled increasingly by natural increase rather than in-migration – also underscores the changing racial and ethnic mix of America’s young people. Our research contributes to the understanding of rural demographic processes by emphasizing the critical role that natural increase/decrease is playing in rural population redistribution. It contributes to policy discussions by delineating the rapidity and geographic scale at which rural America is changing.