Demography, Urbanization and Development

Rural Push, Urban Pull and... Urban Push?

+ Rémi Jedwab, Luc Christiaensen, Marina Gindelsky


Developing countries have rapidly urbanized since 1950. To explain urbanization, standard models have emphasized rural-urban migration, focusing on rural push factors (agricultural modernization and rural poverty) and urban pull factors (industrialization and urban-biased policies). Using newly compiled historical data on urban birth and death rates for 7 countries from Industrial Europe (1800-1910) and 33 developing countries (1960-2010), we show that a non-negligible part of developing countries’ rapid urban growth and urbanization can also be linked to demographic factors, i.e. rapid internal urban population growth, or an urban push. The much lower urban mortality of today’s developing countries, relative to Industrial Europe, where higher urban death rates virtually offset urban births, has compounded the effects of migration. High urban natural increase, rather than migration, is also found to be associated with urban congestion, thus providing further insight into the phenomenon of urbanization without growth.


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Rémi Jedwab is a Fellow at the NYU Marron Institute and an associate professor of Economics and International Affairs at the Elliott School and the Department of Economics of George Washington University.

Luc Christiaensen is a Senior Economist in the Office of the Chief Economist for the Africa Region of the World Bank.

Marina Gindelsky is a professor in the Department of Economics at George Washington University.

Header image courtesy of kathywoolbrightdarza via Flickr.

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