This paper has identified and discussed the major demographic and socio-econornic impacts of urbanization, highlighting its role in sustainable population management and improved quality of life. A number of major conclusions have emerged from the evidence and discussion in the paper.
1. Urbanization generally contributes to the lowering of population fertility rates and average family sizes. This is largely a result of the behavioural and lifestyle changes which characterize urbanization, including better education, higher age at first marriage, increased female employment and higher rates of contraceptive use. In addition, the cost of caring for the diverse needs of children, combined with the desire for improved living conditions and higher quality of life, tends to discourage urban residents from having large families. This conclusion is supported by evidence from both developed and developing countries.
2. Evidence on mortality suggests that in developed countries, urbanization initially led to higher mortality rates in urban than in rural areas, largely due to severe overcrowding, combined with very bad sanitation conditions. At present, there is hardly any difference between urban and rural mortality rates in developed countries. However, recent evidence from developing countries suggests that urban areas have lower mortality rates than rural areas. This is largely a result of the greater concentration of medical facilities within urban areas.
3. With regard to general socio-economic development, it is very clear from historical evidence that cities and towns are both the loci and agents of innovation, innovation diffusion and socio-economic transformation. The history of scientific and technological innovation, and that of civilization in general, is inseparable from that of towns and cities. Among the significant manifestations of most of the ancient civilizations were their towns and cities.
4. Worldwide empirical evidence demonstrates clearly that there is a positive correlation between GNP per capita and level of urbanization (measured as the percentage of the total national population resident within urban areas). It is generally recognized that towns and cities are the engines of national economic growth, largely as a result of the agglomeration economies which characterize them.
5. At the household level, the net effect of urbanization is an increase in average real income. For individuals and their households, urban areas offer better opportunities of income generation, whether through formal employment or through informal sector activities. It is also clear that expectation of higher incomes is the main factor underlying rural-to-urban migration in developing countries.
6. Finally, evidence from developing countries suggests that urban centres have many positive impacts on their rural hinterlands through a variety of urban-rural linkages. These linkages include: remittances of money by urban residents to their rural kin; transfer of knowledge and skills through migrants returning from urban to rural areas; and the provision of retail, transport, social and administrative services to rural hinterland populations.
Historical experience suggests that urbanization is an inevitable process. In light of this observation, combined with the positive impacts or urbanization outlined above, it is clear that the main challenge at present is not that of slowing-down urbanization, but of learning how to cope with rapid urban growth. In recognition of the role of cities as engines of economic development, there has recently been a resurgence of interest in urban management as the main tool for coping with rapid urban growth and maximising the positive demographic and socio-economic impacts of urbanization.
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