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Chapter 8: Global Stratification and Demography

8.6 Urbanization

An important aspect of population growth over the centuries has been , or the rise and growth of cities. Urbanization has had important consequences for many aspects of social, political, and economic life (Kleniewski & Thomas, 2011).

The earliest cities developed in ancient times after the rise of horticultural and pastoral societies made it possible for people to stay in one place instead of having to move around to find food. Because ancient cities had no sanitation facilities, people typically left their garbage and human waste in the city streets or just outside the city wall (which most cities had for protection from possible enemies); this poor sanitation led to rampant disease and high death rates. Some cities eventually developed better sanitation procedures, including, in Rome, a sewer system (Smith, 2003).

Cities became more numerous and much larger during industrialization, as people moved to be near factories and other sites of industrial production. First in Europe and then in the United States, people crowded together as never before. Lack of sanitation continued to cause rampant disease, and death rates from cholera, typhoid, and other illnesses were high. In addition, crime rates soared, and mob violence became quite common (Feldberg, 1998).

Global Urbanization

Urbanization varies around the world. In general, high and middle-income nations are more urban than low-income nations (see Figure 8.17 “Percentage of Urbanization per Country, 2018”), thanks in large part to the latter’s rural economies. This variation, however, obscures the fact that the world is becoming increasingly urban overall. In 1950, less than one-third of the world’s population lived in cities or towns; in 2008, more than half the population lived in cities or towns, representing the first time in history that a majority of people were not living in rural areas (United Nations Population Fund, 2007). By 2030, almost two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas.

Figure 8.17 Percentage of Urbanization Per Country, 2018

World map showing Percentage of Urbanization Per Country, 2018, with south Asia and sub-Saharan African having the lowest rates compared to the rest of the world.

Wikignuthor – Own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

The number of urban residents will increase rapidly in the years ahead, especially in Africa and Asia as people in these continents’ nations move to urban areas and as their populations continue to grow through natural fertility. Table 8.5 “City Population Projections for 2050” demonstrates that the largest cities in the world in 2050, with the exception of Tokyo and New York, will all be located in countries currently classified as middle- or low-income.

Table 8.5 City Population Projections for 2050



2050 Projected Population


Mumbai (Bombay), India



Delhi, India



Dhaka, Bangladesh



Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo



Kolkata (Calcutta), India



Lagos, Nigeria



Tokyo, Japan



Karachi, Pakistan



New York City-Newark, USA



Mexico City, Mexico



Cairo, Egypt



Manila, Philippines



Sao Paulo, Brazil



Shanghai, China



Lahore, Pakistan


Source: Data from “City Population 2050.” Paris, France | Sustainability Today. Retrieved from https://sites.uoit.ca/ sustainabilitytoday/urban-and-energy-systems/Worlds-largest-cities/population-projections/city-population-2050.php

This trend poses both opportunities and challenges for poorer nations. The opportunities are many. Jobs are more plentiful in cities than in rural areas and incomes are higher, and services such as health care and schooling are easier to deliver because people are living more closely together. In another advantage, women in poorer nations generally fare better in cities than in rural areas in terms of education and employment possibilities (United Nations Population Fund, 2007).

But there are also many challenges. In the major cities of poor nations, homeless children live on the streets and many people lack necessities and conveniences that urban dwellers in industrial nations take for granted. As the United Nations Population Fund (2007) warns, “One billion people live in urban slums, which are typically overcrowded, polluted and dangerous, and lack basic services such as clean water and sanitation.” The rapid urbanization of poor nations will compound the many problems these nations already have, just as the rapid urbanization in the industrial world more than a century ago led to the disease and other problems discussed earlier. As cities grow rapidly in poor nations, moreover, these nations’ poverty makes them ill equipped to meet the challenges of urbanization. Helping these nations meet the needs of their cities remains a major challenge for the world community in the years ahead.

Test Yourself


Section 8.6 References

City Population 2050. Paris, France, Sustainability Today.  Retrieved from https://sites.ontariotechu.ca/sustainabilitytoday/urban-and-energy-systems/Worlds-largest-cities/population-projections/city-population-2050.php.

Feldberg, M. (1998). Urbanization as a cause of violence: Philadelphia as a test case. In A. F. Davis & M. H. Haller (Eds.), The Peoples of Philadelphia: A history of ethnic groups and lower-class life, 1790–1940 (pp. 53–69).

Kleniewski, N. and A. R. Thomas.  (2011). Cities, change, and conflict (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Smith, M. L. (Ed.). (2003). The social construction of ancient cities. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

United Nations Population Fund. (2007). Linking population, poverty, and development. Urbanization: A majority in cities. Retrieved from http://www.unfpa.org/pds/urbanization.htm.

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