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Chapter 19 Population and Urbanization

Social Issues in the News

“New Leaders Can’t Shrink from Michigan Realities,” the headline said. The realities stemmed from the fact that Michigan’s population was shrinking. The state’s birth rate was 21% lower than its 1990 rate, and it now had 22,500 fewer fifth graders than ninth graders. Another reason for the population decline was that for the past decade many more people had been moving out of Michigan than moving in. Because many of those moving out were young, college-educated adults, they were taking with them hundreds of millions of dollars in paychecks that would have bolstered Michigan’s economy and tax revenue base. They were also leaving behind empty houses and apartments that were further depressing the state’s real estate market. The population decline had already forced several schools to close, with additional closings likely, and it was also increasing the percentage of Michigan residents in their older years who would need additional state services. The population decline has been especially severe in Detroit but has also been occurring in smaller cities and towns. (French & Wilkinson, 2009; Dzwonkowski, 2010)French, R., & Wilkinson, M. (2009, April 2). Leaving Michigan behind: Eight-year population exodus staggers state. The Detroit News. Retrieved from; Dzwonkowski, R. (2010, September 19). New leaders can’t shrink from Michigan realities. Detroit Free Press, p. 2A.

As this news story from Michigan reminds us, population change often has weighty consequences throughout a society. Among other consequences, Michigan’s population decline has affected its economy, educational system, and services for its older residents. While Michigan and other states are shrinking, states in the southern and western regions of the nation are growing, with their large cities becoming even larger. This population growth also has consequences. For example, schools become more crowded, pressuring communities to hire more teachers and either enlarge existing schools or build new ones. It also puts strains on hospitals, social services, and many other sectors of society.

These considerations show that a change in one sector of society often affects other sectors of society. We cannot fully understand society without appreciating the sources, dynamics, and consequences of the changes societies undergo. This chapter’s discussion of population and urbanization is the first of three chapters that examine various kinds of social change. Chapter 20 "Social Change and the Environment" looks more broadly at social change before examining sociological aspects of the environment, while Chapter 21 "Collective Behavior and Social Movements" discusses collective behavior and social movements—fads, riots, protests, and the like—which collectively are another significant source of social change.