Population Structure, Movements, and Concentration

The Basics of Sociology. Editor: Kathy S Stolley. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Some sociologists specialize in studying population structure, movements, and concentrations. Their focus is demography, the study of human populations involving statistical description and analyses of population size and structure. People who practice demography are called demographers. Demography is variously referred to as a subfield of sociology, a close cousin, an interdisciplinary field, or even as a separate area of study. Any way it is classified, the information that interests demographers is important in helping us develop a more complete picture of our social lives (Wrong, 1977).

Demographers look at the basic structure and characteristics of human populations and population trends. They use statistical techniques to make predictions about a population’s future. Demographers produce familiar statistics such as those in the U.S. Census and actuarial life-tables for insurance companies. Demographers also address some vital social issues that arise as a result of demographic forces, for example, what happens when cities become overcrowded, large refugee populations are created by war or other catastrophes, or the environment is damaged by such situations.

Population Change

Population concerns are frequently in the press. To help predict and plan for social needs, demographers give much attention to population change. They study three sources of population change: births, deaths, and migration rates. Together, these figures help demographers estimate how populations will grow and change.

The first source of population change that interests demographers is fertility, reproductive performance indicated by the incidence of childbearing in a population—or, in other words, the birthrate of a population. To estimate population growth patterns and change, demographers calculate a figure called the crude birthrate. This calculation tells them the number of live births in a year per 1,000 people in a population. The crude birthrate is used as a rough measure of overall fertility and may be figured for specific populations (by race, religion, etc.). However, it allows only rough estimates of population growth because it does not include age or sex data. A much more accurate picture of a society’s population growth can be derived from age-specific fertility rates, the number of births to women in certain age groups in a population, and age-sex pyramids, as discussed below.

The number of children women have varies widely based on a number of factors. It tends to be higher in less developed countries and agriculturally based economies than in industrialized nations. Children’s farm labor is an asset in traditional agriculture, and cultural values often support large families. Effective birth control may not be readily available for those who do want it. Where health conditions are poor, large families are necessary to ensure that some children live until adulthood. In many places, adult children will provide the only care parents receive in their old age.

The second source of population change demographers consider when estimating population patterns is mortality, incidence of deaths. Calculating the number of deaths in a year per 1,000 people in a population provides a crude death rate. Like the crude birthrate, age-specific mortality rates, the number of deaths per age groups in a population, allow a more accurate measure when predicting population change.

Events such as war or genocide obviously impact death rates. So do changes designed to improve public health (e.g., digging a well for clean water) or raising the economic status of an area (e.g., more people can afford food and medicine for their children).

The third source of population change that interests demographers is migration, the movement of people into and out of a specific area. Migration includes both immigration, the movement of people into the area, and emigration, the movement of people out of an area. Immigration minus emigration yields a figure called the net migration rate, expressed as the change per 1,000 people in the population of an area in a given year. In addition to population size, migration impacts the demographic characteristics of areas. For example, migration of retirees to the warm sunbelt states in the U.S. means those areas have large aging populations. Thus, those areas have greater needs for retirement housing, health care facilities, and other services for the elderly.

The social factors that lead people to migrate and the social impacts of this movement are important to understand. Some migration is voluntary, meaning the people who move choose to do so of their own accord. Homesteaders, gold miners moving toward what is now the western United States, and retirees moving to warm climates from the northern states are voluntary migrants. However, much migration is involuntary. The Trail of Tears, in which the Cherokee people were marched from choice settlement land in the eastern United States to Oklahoma; slavery; the transfer of Jews during World War II; refugees fleeing disaster areas; and Muslim Croats being expelled from Serbian villages are all examples of involuntary migration. As these examples suggest, mass migration, when large numbers of people move at one time, is more often involuntary than voluntary. This forced migration has increased significantly since the end of the cold war, becoming a “central aspect of social transformation in the contemporary world” (Castles 2003, 30). Sociologists even study migration as a form of collective action (see chapter 9), looking at such things as the social conditions that lead to migration, the actions of authority figures and migrants, the actual journey, and living conditions (Miller 2000, 231-47).

Population Structures

Using these three concepts, demographers build graphs called population pyramids, which depict a country’s population composition. These population pyramids may also be referred to as age-sex pyramids, because they show the population not only by age but also by the relative proportion of men and women in each age group. In general, there are three basic types of population pyramids: those showing rapid population growth, those showing slow growth, and those that show near-zero growth or population decline. All population pyramids are arranged with the oldest members of a population at the top and the youngest at the bottom. However, each type of pyramid has a distinctive shape based on the population’s characteristics.

Fast Population Growth

Population pyramids for fast-growing countries actually do take the shape of a pyramid. Because each generation is larger than the preceding generation, the graphs are wide at the bottom and narrow toward the top.

Nigeria provides a good example of a country with a rapid population growth rate (see figure 8.1). The annual growth rate in 2000 was 2.7 percent. Nigerian birthrates far exceed death rates. The total fertility rate in 2000 was over five children per woman; the median age for females was 17.6 years old. That means half of all Nigerian women were older than 17.6 and half were younger. Thus, a large proportion of women in Nigeria still have many years of potential childbearing ahead. Although the total fertility rate per woman is expected to drop to 3.6 by 2025, other factors, such as anticipated decreases in infant mortality and death rates due to increasing access to health care, are projected to keep the annual rate of population growth in Nigeria high for the coming decades.

Slow Population Growth

With an annual rate of growth of only 0.9 percent in 2000, the United States provides an example of a slow-growth population (see figure 8.2). Birthrates were slightly higher than death rates, but not as imbalanced as Nigeria.

The total fertility rate per woman was 2.1 children, the replacement rate for a population. This fertility rate provides two children to replace parents. The extra 0.1 allows for all those born who will not have children for various reasons (e.g., infertility, choice, or dying before becoming a parent) and the fact that slightly more males are born than females. The median age for females in the United States was 36.8 years old, meaning that many American women were nearing the end of, or were already beyond, their childbearing years.

Several events have caused this pattern—the low birthrates during the Great Depression (1930s), the post-World War II baby boom (people born after the war through the early 1960s), a mid-1970s “baby-bust,” followed by a “baby boomlet” of the 1980s and early 1990s (McFalls 1998). As the so-called baby boomers have aged, fertility rates have remained low, and average life expectancy has increased. The result is that the U.S. population is getting older and the shape of the population pyramid is changing. Almost eight percent of all Americans will be in the 80-and-over age category by 2050. Because women tend to outlive men, the number of women in this age group will far exceed the number of men. The top bar of the pyramid takes on an especially interesting shape for that year.

Declining Populations

Ukraine provides an example of a country with a declining population (see figure 8.3). The population pyramid for Ukraine takes on the distinctive shape of a declining population, as shown by its narrowing base. In the year 2000, the country had a negative annual growth rate of—0.6 percent. The death rate was higher than the birthrate. The fertility rate per woman was only 1.3, well below the replacement level of 2.1 children as noted above. Half of all Ukrainian women were 39 years old or older.

Theories of Demographic Change

Demographers are also interested in why population changes as it does. Two of the major theories in this area are Malthusian theory and the demographic-transition theory.

Malthusian Theory

English clergyman Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), profiled below, is sometimes called the “father of demography.” In 1798, he forwarded a dire prediction of overpopulation. Malthus began with two main assumptions—that food is necessary for human existence, and that the human sex drive, or “passion between the sexes,” is strong and will not abate in the future. The thrust of his argument was that population growth would outpace Earth’s ability to produce enough food. He predicted that human population would increase geometrically, doubling in a given period of time (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.). Food supplies would increase much more slowly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.). The depressing result of such unchecked population growth would be mass starvation.

Malthus argued that this inevitable situation might be delayed through what he called preventative checks and positive checks. Preventative checks aim at reducing the birthrate. They include marrying at later ages, abstinence, and birth control. Positive checks increase the death rate. Cases of war, disease, and famine are in this category.

Fortunately, Malthus’s predictions have not yet come true. Critics point out that Malthus was writing during a period of high population growth. The burgeoning Industrial Revolution would ultimately result in smaller family size. Also, Malthus focused on available productive farmland in making his predictions. He did not predict the technological advances that would later be applied to agriculture. He also did not foresee the advances in contraception that have occurred in recent decades. However, some demographers and others argue that Malthus’s work remains important because he calls our attention to overpopulation problems that the world still faces if we do not curb population growth. Malthus’s work also provides the basis for evolutionary-ecological theories that examine ties between population and production (Elwell 2001).

Demographic-Transition Theory

The demographic-transition theory takes a different approach to world population growth. According to this theory, specific patterns of population change are brought about by industrialization. In preindustrial societies, where both birthrates and death rates are high, population growth is slow (Simon 1996). As industrialization begins, traditionally high birthrates remain high. However, death rates drop due to improvements in food supply, sanitation, and health. The result is a so-called demographic gap during which the population grows quickly (Brown 1987). When a society is fully industrialized, children are no longer an economic asset, as they are in agricultural societies. Cultural preferences change to smaller families. The society’s birthrate drops, coming more in line with death rates. This leads to slowing population growth. Eventually, the population may stabilize or even begin to decline. Nations with mature industrial economies, such as those in western Europe, Japan, and the United States, have completed this demographic transition and are experiencing slowly growing, or even slightly declining, populations (van de Kaa 1987).

Critics question whether this theory paints an accurate picture beyond the industrialized countries on which it was based. A variety of factors will ultimately influence population trends in countries that do not fit this theory. Due to advances in public health (e.g., sanitation, vaccines), other countries are experiencing improved health without a corresponding period of industrialization. In those countries, fertility rates stay high, death rates fall, and the population grows. This is especially the case when religious beliefs are maintained that disallow or discourage birth control and encourage large families. Controlling the birth rate becomes a crucial factor in controlling population growth (Wrong 1977; Ching 1994).

Some observers argue that technology will actually divide the world, with some countries being able to industrialize while others cannot. The countries that do not industrialize will continue to experience high poverty rates. Problems of poverty are often exacerbated in these countries as the population grows. The role of poverty combined with man-made famines, such as those caused or worsened by genocide, war, or ineffective food-distribution methods, can also impact population changes (Independent Commissions on International Humanitarian Issues 1985; Kates 1993; Sen 1981).

Measuring Population

Demographers use data from a variety of sources including censuses, birth and death records and other vital registration data (e.g., marriage, divorce), migration data, and surveys (Steele and Price 2004, 87). Censuses are demographic counts that are familiar to many people. In the United States, the Census Bureau is the largest statistical agency of the federal government. In addition to conducting a census of the U.S. population every 10 years, the Census Bureau conducts over a hundred other demographic and economic surveys every year. When the first U.S. Census was taken in 1790, the population of the United States was less than 4 million people. By 2000, the U.S. population had grown to more than 281 million.

Although many people may be unaware of how widely used census data are, these figures are important in many areas of our social lives. In the political arena, they are used for apportionment, a process of determining how many of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allotted to each state. (Because the Constitution provides two senators for each state, the distribution of members in the Senate is not affected by census results.) States also use the census results in redistricting, a process of redrawing political districts after apportionment.

Census data are used for market and advertising research, disease prevention, community advocacy, and resource allocation (e.g., where to locate hospitals and social services), and by genealogists tracing family trees. It is even used in disaster relief. For example, after Hurricane Andrew hit southern Florida in 1992, census information provided estimates of the number of people missing in each block as well as detailed maps of destroyed neighborhoods (U.S. Census Bureau 1999).

Because census data are used in so many ways and billions of dollars in federal funding are awarded based on the outcome, the accuracy of the count is important and politically charged. Ideally, censuses would count every individual in the population and not miss anyone. However, censuses do miss people in their counts, especially hard-to-reach populations, including the homeless (HUD 2004), minorities, low-income families, the homeless, recent migrants, and the unemployed (Simpson and Middleton 1997). For the 2000 census, the U.S. Census Bureau was aware of this problem and tried to take corrective measures to make up for this historical undercounting (US Census Bureau 2001b).

Population and Urbanization

In examining how population patterns influence social life, much attention focuses on the impact of urbanization, the increasing percentage of a population living in urbanized areas. Urbanized areas are densely settled central places and adjacent territories with residential populations of 50,000 or more people. Urbanized areas are contrasted with rural areas, areas with sparse population densities that do not fit the definition of urban. Urban lifestyles are generally considered more “modern” and faster paced than non-urban lifestyles.

Rural areas are typically considered to have a more traditional and slower-paced lifestyle.

More Americans than ever are living in urbanized areas. When the first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790, only five percent of the population was considered urban. By the time the 2000 census was taken, 80 percent of all Americans were urban dwellers, living in cities and closely surrounding areas. A look at cities gives a more complete picture of urbanization in the United States. Cities are types of incorporated places with defined geographic boundaries. New York City has been the largest city in the United States since the first census was conducted. In 1790, New York’s population was just over 33,000 residents. By 2000, that city’s population had topped 8 million people. The 10 largest cities are now spread across the United States.

Across the globe, cities in poorer societies are also growing at a fast rate. Most of the world’s population growth for the next quarter-century is expected to occur in cities in developing countries (Montgomery et al. 2003). In 2000, 2.9 billion people worldwide lived in urban areas. This number is expected to reach 5 billion by 2030. Fully one-half of all people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2007, and 60 percent of world population will be urban by 2030 (United Nations Population Division 2002).

This is quite a change in population patterns considering that, as recently as 1950, less than 30 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas (Palen 1986). Cities attract migrants looking for work and other opportunity such as education as well as those pushed out of their homes by political events (London 1987). However, as these cities grow, so do urban problems. The cities are often poorly equipped with even basic facilities, such as sewage treatment and garbage removal, to handle the increasing numbers of often very poor migrants. These cities also face increasing environmental problems (Livernash and Rodenburg 1998). Even city dumps may serve as homes for those with no other options.

The population in less developed countries is growing faster than the population in more developed countries. A look at the world’s most populated countries shows that since 1950, the top 10 countries in that regard has increasingly included less developed countries. During the last half of the twentieth century, less developed countries have comprised an increasing share of world population. This trend is expected to continue. Population growth in the less developed countries of the world is growing at six times the rate of population growth in more developed countries. The poorest of these less developed countries have growth rates that are even higher. For example, the populations in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, and Yemen are expected to quadruple in the next half-century (United Nations Population Division 2003). This growth pattern is likely to lead growing problems of poverty and unrest as people compete for increasingly limited resources both inside and between nations.

History of Urban Sociology

Early sociologists in both the United States and Britain were very much concerned with urban issues (Savage and Warde 1993). In the United States, an early study in urban sociology was conducted by W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), profiled in chapter 7. His study The Philadelphia Negro (1996, orig. 1899) has been credited by some as initiating the field of American urban sociology. Du Bois conducted his study while living among residents of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Seventh Ward, where 20 percent of the city’s black population lived.

In addition to his observations, Du Bois used a questionnaire to learn about the social life of the ward. His research included northern migration, the effects of slavery, families, and class and race issues. He even gathered or created blueprints and diagrams of buildings. Although Du Bois has been criticized for taking a moralistic and elitist tone toward lower-class blacks in the book, he used his research to argue sociologically that the ghetto resulted from, rather than caused, other problems of the black residents’ lives.

Other black scholars would study blacks and the urban-rural transition. This work on urban issues predated the same community-centered sociology that would become the hallmark of the University of Chicago, where the faculty conducted much of the early research on urban sociology (Young and Deskins 2001, 453-54).

The University of Chicago established the first graduate department of sociology in the United States (see chapter 1). That allowed the school to attract and train many of the preeminent early sociologists in the country. Several Chicago-school sociologists are profiled throughout this book, including Jane Addams (chapter 11), Charles Horton Cooley (chapter 4), George Herbert Mead (chapter 4), and W. I. Thomas (chapter 4). Robert Park and Louis Wirth are profiled below. During the early decades of the twentieth century, the Chicago sociologists turned much of their attention to urban issues (Savage and Warde 1993). Their work set the stage for American sociologists for many years and remains influential today.

The Chicago-school sociologists produced several ethnographies of the urban life of Chicago residents, including studies of gangs, transients, and immigrants (Savage and Warde 1993). A 1938 piece by Louis Wirth (1897-1952) describing an urban lifestyle has been called “one of the most influential sociological articles ever written” (Savage and Warde 1993, 97). It is also reputed to be the article “most widely cited in sociology” (Abercrombie, Hill, and Turner 2000, 370). In his article, Wirth discussed differences between social interaction and life in cities and rural areas, focusing on isolation and loss of individuality. His argument was that cities change social relationships for the worse. Whether this is actually the case has been examined in a variety of subsequent studies.

Urban Ecology

An early effort connecting humans and their urban environments was urban ecology developed by the Chicago school. Urban ecology focuses on the interaction between human population and the environment, including both material and nonmaterial aspects of human culture. The perspective grows out of the organic analogy of the early sociologists (Gottdiener 1985, 25-27).

From the early 1900s through the 1930s, Chicago sociologists attempted to map “natural areas” of social segregation occurring in cities. They developed a series of models that segregated both land use and social groups. Ernest Burgess (1925) explained changing land-use patterns in terms of a concentric-zone model that saw city growth as a series of five widening circles, or zones. These zones arise as a result of a search for choice business and residence locations. The center circle, zone 1, is the central business district. This area in the middle of the city contains businesses, shops, and banks. As this district needs more space to expand, it pushes outward, forming a “zone of transition.” This second circle, zone 2, becomes a run-down area of cheap housing, as some holdings remain undeveloped and residences are too close to industry to be preferable or maintain a high value. Beyond this is the third circle, zone 3, an area of working-class homes. Still further out, in zone 4, is the residential area, consisting of single-family homes or more expensive apartments. Zone 5 is beyond the city limits. This is the commuter zone.

The sector model of urban land use was promoted by Homer Hoyt (1939). According to this theory, zones are not circular. They are wedge-shaped areas extending outward from the central business district of the city. These sectors are based on economic activities. For example, manufacturing may grow outward along railroad tracks. Residential neighborhoods may follow new construction of shopping areas.

Another model, the multiple-nuclei model, sees city development as occurring in irregular patterns (Harris and Ullman 1945). Cities develop with not only one, but several “centers” or nuclei. For example, higher-class residential areas would be located away from industrial areas, perhaps closer to outlying business districts. Any residential areas near heavy manufacturing would be lower-class housing. Shopping districts may grow up adjacent to residential areas to accommodate the residents.

A later ecological analysis by Amos Hawley (1950) viewed the city in terms of an interdependent system. He focused on the importance of transportation and communication technologies in influencing the way cities develop. Critics of Hawley and similar approaches argue that they have a conservative bent. Their models are accused of ignoring such factors as class, status, and political power that shape cities and leaving out other important factors such as competing interests and government programs and policies (Gottdiener 1985, 40-41). More recent urban sociologists have turned to models influenced by the conflict perspective that accounts for these factors.

Urban Sociology Today

For the first century of urban sociology, sociologists largely influenced by Chicago perspectives focused on urban social organization. Their interests included community integration, organization and disorganization, urban growth and differentiation, how migrants adapted to their new cities, and social mobility. Current urban sociology has expanded well beyond these roots. It has become multidisciplinary, with important input from other fields, including political science, economics, and geography (Walton, 2000).

Starting in the late 1960s, the focus of urban sociology shifted to issues of inequality and social unrest (Walton 2000). As Zukin explains, the emphasis shifted to “tying together urbanization, the quest for profit and domination, and the state’s attempts to moderate domestic conflict between social classes” (1980, 579). This new perspective is sometimes referred to as political economy. As the name suggests, the new focus is on the interrelationships between political and economic forces and the way they propel urban events. It draws from the conflict perspective of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (profiled in chapters 2 and 7, respectively), viewing urban problems as related to capitalism.

According to this perspective, in a capitalist system, urban areas develop largely as a result of competition for resources. Harvey (1985a, 1985b) argues that urban areas are “built environments” that serve the processes of capital production, accumulation, circulation, and consumption. Banking, shopping, manufacturing, and even roadways are constructed to facilitate capitalism. When they no longer serve this purpose satisfactorily, these areas are destroyed or rebuilt in an almost cyclical process to better accommodate capitalistic processes.

According to Logan and Molotch (1987), real-estate developers, owners, and agents; entrepreneurs; media; politicians; and professionals such as attorneys and architects comprise central positions in cities as part of a powerful elite. As such, they play a prominent role in an urban “growth machine” that seeks to maximize the growth and development of urban space and the economic value of the land. Competing political, economic, cultural, and geographic interests and factors conflict over growth and market resources, such as industry and retail centers.

Another view of urban development is provided by a sociospatial model, which “views local areas as comprised of various, often competing, growth networks rather than a single coalition, even though all urban areas in the United States remain dominated by business interests” (Gottdiener, Collins, and Dickens 1999, 7; italics mine). A study of the development of Las Vegas, Nevada, was conducted by Mark Gottdiener, profiled below, and colleagues. They argue that the city is run by elites composed of the most successful business interests at the time. These elites and their interests have changed over time as investment opportunities and government policies change.

In Las Vegas, the first elite were Mormon rulers. Business interests then began to serve gold prospectors, followed by railroad development, and later real estate speculators. The need to develop a means to travel across the continent and the gold rush of the 1800s provided external influences to this development. Later, federal funding spurred development through the Boulder Dam building project. Tourism grew with the dam. Other influential government policies included the legalization of gambling as a business proposition and federal spending on the World War II effort that boosted the local economy. During the 1970s and 1980s, the city leaders worked to enhance Las Vegas’s image, re-creating the city as a family vacation destination. It is now an area of megaresorts and multinational corporate ownership (Gottdiener, Collins, and Dickens 1999).


Starting largely after World War II, urban-population patterns began to shift (Fishman 1987). The results of the 1950 census showed that patterns of urban residence were changing due to suburbanization, the process of population moving out of central cities to surrounding areas. First the upper classes, then the middle classes, and then the working classes were able to move out of the central city to the suburbs, urban areas outside of city boundaries. In many areas, this coincided with the advent of public transportation (e.g., railways, trams, cars) that made commuting into the city to work possible.

In 1946, Abraham Levitt and his sons bought 4,000 acres of potato fields in the town of Hempstead, New York, where “they planned the biggest private housing project in American history” (Jackson 1985, 234). The Levitts developed a 27-step method of mass-produced house construction that allowed them to produce homes quickly and economically, complete with appliances. Ultimately, Levittown consisted of over 17,000 homes and 82,000 residents. Government loan programs, affordable mortgages, and tax-deductible mortgage interest all made the housing attractive and accessible to the young families and returning veterans that would give birth to the postwar baby-boom generation. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Levitts built a second Levittown in Pennsylvania, and, in 1955, they started Levittown, New Jersey.

Sociologist Herbert Gans (1967), profiled below, spent two years living in and studying Levittown, New Jersey. Residents were relatively homogenous and mostly white, and had similar incomes. Gans concentrated on several concerns, including the quality of suburban life. He concluded that Levittown and suburbia fit the needs of the period. He argued that suburban families were close-knit and socially satisfied, rather than suffering a range of negative consequences (e.g., boredom and loneliness), as critics of these new areas had predicted.

To proponents, the suburbs are often hailed as an ideal in American way of life. They are considered models of the residential “good life.” However, suburbs do have their own problems and critics. Suburbs experience racism and homelessness, as do cities (Dreier 1993). Suburban life is also the subject of satires and even negative attacks in movies (Muzzio and Halper 2002).

Suburbanization often led to urban decay. The poor remained in cities while the more affluent took flight to outlying areas. This left cities struggling with lower tax bases and numerous urban problems. In recent decades, the focus in many cities has turned to urban renewal—government-funded programs that aim to rejuvenate cities. These efforts support inner cities with new business, shopping, and residential projects that provide income. Another effort in bringing the middle-class or affluent back into central cities is gentrification. The affluent buy run-down properties at low cost and fix them up as upscale residences. This results in an increase in property values. Gentrification may be encouraged by government policy or private development (Beauregard 1990; Kerstein 1990).

Critics of these processes charge that they displace the poor by eliminating, without replacing, affordable housing. Sharon Zukin (1988) studied gentrification in an area of New York City in which artists turned previous Manhattan sweatshops into lofts where they lived and worked on their art. An artist community formed, attracting the attention of investors. Property values increased further, eventually even pushing some of the artists out of the area.

According to Joel Garreau (1991), recent years have also seen a growth in edge cities. These edge cities are forms of self-sufficient suburbs that have extensive office and retail space, as well as plenty of entertainment and recreational facilities. There are residences in these areas; however, there are more jobs than housing. This means edge-city populations are largest during the daytime, as people come into the area to work, and decrease in the evenings, when people return home. These edge cities grow up around major suburban highway interchanges in areas that were not cities even a few decades ago.

Garreau identified over 200 existing or planned edge cities around the United States, including over 20 each around Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and New York City. He summarizes the growth of these edge cities as a “third wave” of city dwelling occurring in the last half of the twentieth century. “First, we moved our homes past the traditional idea of what constituted a city. This was the suburbanization of America, especially after World War II. Then we wearied of returning downtown for the necessities of life, so we moved our marketplaces out to where we lived. This was the malling of America, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, we have moved our means of creating wealth, the essence of urbanism—our jobs—out to where most of us have lived and shopped for two generations. That has led to the rise of the Edge City” (Garreau 1991, 4).

Nature of Urban Life and Community

Early sociological writing that compared the impact of rural and urban life was done by German sociologist Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1936), profiled below. Toennies (1963, orig. 1887) used the term Gemeinschaft, meaning “community,” to describe traditional social ties characterized by the importance of intimate relationships such as family, kin, and friendship; moral closeness/unity; and religion. Toennies contrasted this with Gesellschaft, meaning “association,” which describes social ties characterized by a focus on self rather than community good, individuality, separation from others, and impersonality. He characterized rural villages as exhibiting characteristics of community, whereas large cities led to a breakdown of these traditional ties. To Toennies, this was problematic rather than a positive trend.

Georg Simmel (1858-1918), another German sociologist writing around the same time as Toennies, was interested in the social implications of the size of groups. (Simmel is profiled and his work on group size is discussed in chapter 5.) Simmel also studied cities and the large collections of people interacting with each other. He said that people in cities develop certain responses to city life. They become emotionally reserved around others and respond intellectually rather than emotionally to situations. Additionally, because city dwellers cannot respond to every person they encounter, they develop what he called a blasé attitude, a sort of impersonality in which they weigh options and decisions before acting. For example, they may give directions to someone looking for a nearby address but ignore a panhandler’s request for money. This sort of picking and choosing may appear selfish, but it allows them to cope with the multiple demands of urban life, plus it allows a type of personal freedom that traditional communities quash.

Another contemporary of Toennies and Simmel who gave attention to rural and urban ties was French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), profiled in chapter 10. Durkheim’s interest was solidarity—the bonds between people and what unites them. He felt that in traditional communities, social bonds were characterized by mechanical solidarity. Much like Toennies’s concept of Gemeinschaft, mechanical solidarity depends on commonality, shared values and beliefs, and little division of labor. Personal differences are minimized. Durkheim contrasted this with organic solidarity, in which social ties are based on differences. Organic solidarity results from the division of labor characteristic of industrial societies and the new social bonds that form. Taking a more optimistic view of changing social ties than his contemporaries, Durkheim argued that individuals in cities become less tied to common concerns, but that an important, and positive, interdependence develops as people develop specialized roles.

More recent sociologists continue to give attention to the community and social bonds. For example, looking at the social networks that exist in communities, Barry Wellman (1999a), profiled below, argues that we have specialized community ties that provide us various resources. We may choose to live near our place of employment or near public transportation that we can use to travel to work. We may choose a particular area because our children will be assigned to a preferred school district.

Resources we can rely on are our social networks. (The importance of networks in our social lives was discussed in chapter 5.) According to Wellman, we have sparsely knit networks that change frequently. In this age of urbanization, many of our networks are dispersed. People know fewer neighbors and maintain most relationships with people outside of their neighborhoods. However, people still manage to maintain supportive networks even though they may be physically distant much of the time. Inviting a group of friends to one’s home to play cards or hosting a club meeting are examples of how these networks are maintained and how important they are to our lives. In either of these examples, people may live, work, and regularly shop and pursue recreational activities in different neighborhoods, coming together for this event.

Globalization and the Internet

Sociologists do not always agree on exactly what a community is. One study found over 95 different uses of the term community in sociological literature (Hillery 1955). Communities have been seen as geographic areas, social systems of interconnections, or personal relationships (Bell and Newby 1976). With the advent and widespread use on the Internet, sociologists have a potential new community to define and study.

Researchers have documented a wide array of community activities online including virtual sex, weddings, funerals, gift giving, hobby-sharing, friend seeking, and more (Hornsby 2001). David Bell examines the question of what types of communities are forming in cyberspace: he suggests that online communities are “imagined and held together by shared cultural practice (rather than just face-to-face interaction)” (2001, 95). Bell bases his discussion on the concepts of Benedict Anderson (1983) and Tim Edensor (2002), which challenge us to envision even nations as imagined communities. Because we can never personally know everyone in our nation, we draw our sense of shared identity from symbols we create (flags, national anthems, etc.) and cultural practices we create and share.

Bell (2001) summarizes several interrelated processes that are frequently perceived as threatening, or transforming, communities. He identifies these processes as de-traditionalization (a shift towards a post-traditional society), globalization (a growing interconnectedness of people around the globe), and disembedding (the uprooting and dispersal of cultural components from their traditional locations as globalization progresses). He ties these processes together with Giddens’s (1991) concept that says we are in a period of history that encourages self-scrutiny and self-consciousness, concluding that “we can choose who we want to be (within certain structural limitations …) and to imagine new forms of community” (Bell 2001, 95-96).

The interrelationship between community, the Internet, and the issue of globalization also raises complex issues. Cyberspace supports globalized communities in that “globalization can be argued to open up the whole world as a potential source of community … the Internet gives us a vast reservoir of choices [of community] … and [the opportunity to] re-imagine the very notion of community. Cities have become too big, too fractured, too scary—and the Internet offers a safe space to build new communities in … a new way to belong” (Bell 2001, 96-97). Whether these processes have positive or negative implications for our ideals of community and whether the Internet is solution or problem is open to debate.

Even though the world’s major cities are rife with population-related problems, they are also keys to globalization. Globalization, together with the importance of the Internet, has created global cities. These are cities across the world that serve as major financial centers tied together by the Internet and corporate entities that often transcend national boundaries, politics, and cultures. They are heavily influenced by global economic conditions in addition to national or regional conditions. They are more closely related to each other than to their own rural areas. They are also the cities with the greatest income inequality (Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Sassen 2001). They provide “infrastructure and expertise that enable corporations to co-ordinate and control their far-flung activities, serving as prime sites for incoming and outgoing foreign investment, and operating as central nodes for the international transmission of all kinds of information” (Hill and Fujita 2003, 207).

Even for cities that are not financial centers, globalization has had an impact. Hodos (2002) raises the question of whether there are other ways for cities to successful integrate globally rather than being financial centers. He uses Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a case study. City officials worked to reinvent Philadelphia during the 1990s in global terms, cultivating an image as an investment and tourism destination. This has been achieved through a focus on the history of the city, hotels, conventions, downtown cultural attractions, and selling foreign executives on the city’s cultural assets and its location as an attractive business community.


Herbert Gans

Herbert J. Gans (1927-) was born in Cologne, Germany. His Jewish family immigrated to Chicago in 1940, escaping the Nazi regime. A shy and unathletic child, Gans became an avid reader at an early age. He also became fascinated by American popular culture, writing essays for his high-school newspaper on the mass media, music, and sports (Gans 1990b).

Gans’s undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago were interrupted when he was drafted in August 1945. GI Bill funds from his time in the military, however, helped him to be able to stay in school long enough to complete his master’s degree when he returned to Chicago (Gans 1990b). Working in the area of city planning, Gans received an offer to work on a project applying social-science perspectives to planning while pursuing a Ph.D. in city planning at the University of Pennsylvania. Gans taught at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before taking a position at Columbia University in 1971.

Over the course of his career, Gans has authored over 170 articles published in academic journals and popular outlets. His works address issues including popular culture, urban planning, mass communications, urban poverty, social planning and policy, race, and ethnicity. He has also written over a dozen books, including The Urban Villagers (1982) and The Levittowners (1967). Two of his works, Deciding What’s News (1979) and The War against the Poor (1995), received multiple awards from media, crime, and human rights organizations.

In addition to teaching and writing, Gans has been involved in civil rights and anti-poverty planning. During much of the 1970s, he was the film critic for Social Policy. Gans is also active in a number of professional organizations. He is a past president of the Eastern Sociological Society and the American Sociological Association (ASA). In 1999, he received the ASA Award for Contributions to the Public Understanding of Sociology (Gans, “Biography—Herbert J. Gans”).

Mark Gottdiener

Mark Gottdiener is professor of sociology and adjunct professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo. He has a varied background, having earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in economics, and a doctorate in sociology. Gottdiener has worked as a transportation analyst and a consultant, as well as holding a number of academic positions. He has served as Chair of the National Task Force on Urban Governance of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges in Washington, D.C. (Gottdiener, “Dr. Mark Gottdiener”).

Gottdiener has served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the American Journal Of Sociology, Consumption and Culture, Urban Studies, City, Social Thought and Research, and Consumption, Culture, and Markets. He has authored, coauthored, or edited over a dozen books. His recent works include Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All American City, (1999), New Forms of Consumption: Culture, Commodification, and the Media (2000), and The Theming of America: Dreams, Visions and Commercial Spaces (2001) (Gottdiener, “Dr. Mark Gottdiener”).

In another recent work, Life in the Air: The New Culture of Air Travel (2001), Gottdiener explores the social world of air travel. “Air travel,” he says, “has become the major means by which people connect, not only on business trips, but for vacations and to see relatives” (quoted in Walker 2001). “In the end, we … will have to deal with our lives in the air in much the same way as we already deal with those lives on the ground-through effective environmental planning, psychological counseling, architectural design, political vision and smart corporate management” (quoted in Lewandowski 2001).

Thomas Robert Malthus

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was born in Surrey, England. Various sources give his date of birth as February 13, 14, or 17, although he was likely born on the 13th (Peterson 1979, 21; Stapleton 1986, 20). He did not use the name “Thomas” in his formal writings. He signed his works and letters as “T. R. Malthus” or “T. Robt. Malthus” (Peterson 1979, 21).

Malthus attended Jesus College, where his main subject of study was mathematics. In 1805, he was appointed professor of history and political economy at the East India Company’s newly established East India College. This was the first British professorship in political economy, and possibly the first in the world (Peterson 1979, 29). Malthus taught there for most of his life.

The work that made Malthus famous was an essay he first published anonymously with the lengthy title An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (Malthus 1926, orig. 1798). In his essay, Malthus responded to a utopian essay predicting a future without social or economic inequalities. His expanded 1803 version, retitled An Essay on the Principle of Population; or, A View of Its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness; with an Inquiry into Our Prospects Respecting the Future Removal or Mitigation of the Evils Which It Occasions, would establish his scholarly reputation. There were seven editions of this work published in all, including one published posthumously.

Over the course of his career, Malthus argued against “poor laws” that he felt encouraged the poor to have large families (Digby 1986; Huzel 1986). As an economist, he also focused on the conspicuous consumption of the aristocracy (Cannadine 1986) and supported “corn laws” that he felt would economically protect Britain’s grain producers (Vamplew 1986).

Although Malthus’s views were often controversial, he held a number of prestigious positions. He was a member of the Political Economy Club, elected Fellow of the Royal Society, one of 10 royal associates of the Royal Academy of Literature, a member of the French Institute and Royal Academy in Berlin, and one of the first fellows of the Statistical Society when it was founded in 1834 (Peterson 1979, 33). Malthus died in Somerset, England, in 1834.

Robert Ezra Park

Born on Valentine’s Day, Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944) was raised in rural Red Wing, Minnesota. As a college undergraduate, he played football and was so involved in extracurricular activities that his graduation was almost delayed (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 94). Park completed his master’s and doctorate degrees in philosophy from Harvard and the University of Heidelberg, respectively.

Park’s only formal study in sociology was taken under Georg Simmel. He was trained in philosophy, and was originally hired to teach one course in 1914 on “The Negro in America.” However, Park taught at Chicago until retiring in 1936. As a testimony to the quality of his teaching, many of the students he trained would become well known in the field themselves. Several of Park’s students, including Herbert Blumer and Louis Wirth, who are both profiled in this book, were elected president of the American Sociological Association (Coser 1977, 372).

Park specialized in race and city life, collective behavior, and human ecology. He felt that sociology was a science. Unlike many of his colleagues and students at Chicago, who were focused on implementing social reforms, Park did not want his students to think of sociology as “do-goodism” (Raushenbush 1979). Rather, he wanted them to be “super-reporters,” using theory-driven concepts to objectively study and understand social life. Only then did he feel they could enact social reforms.

In addition to his teaching, which he loved so much that he regularly taught more courses than he was paid to teach, Park served as president of the American Sociological Association and the Chicago Urban League and was a delegate to the Institute of Pacific Relations. He was a member of the Social Science Research Council and edited numerous books and journals (Coser 1977, 370-71).

Park’s academic influence and accomplishments are all the more notable in that he did not begin his academic career until he was 50 years old. Before teaching at Chicago, Park had spent 11 years as a newspaper reporter, working for newspapers in Minnesota, Detroit, Denver, New York, and Chicago (Coser 1977, 367). He had supplemented his income by writing magazine articles and through work as a publicist for a circus and later the Congo Reform Association (a group seeking reform in the African Congo). He also spent a number of years as a secretary and writer for Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University). Park traveled through the Southern U.S. and Europe with Washington. He would continue his focus on issues of race for the rest of his life. After his retirement, Park taught at Fisk University until his death, one week before turning 80.

Ferdinand Toennies

German sociologist Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1936) attended several universities before receiving his doctorate in classical philology (historical and comparative linguistics) in 1877. His father’s wealth enabled him to continue his studies at the University of Berlin and then London. He returned to Germany, where he joined the faculty at the University of Kiel as a privatdozent (an unpaid lecturer who depended on student fees).

Toennies was able to devote most of his time to writing for professional and political journals rather then teaching. However, he eventually became professor emeritus in sociology. Although “conservative by temperament,” Toennies was active in socialist, trade union, and other progressive movements. He lost his university position in 1933 when he publicly denounced Nazism and anti-Semitism (Heberle 1968).

Famous for his concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Toennies was also very interested in public opinion (Hardt and Splichal 2000) and what he called special sociology, a field he saw as divided into theoretical, applied, and empirical inquiries. Together with Georg Simmel (profiled in chapter 5) and Max Weber (profiled in chapter 2), Toennies was a founder of the German Sociological Society. He served as that organization’s president from 1909 until 1933. He was also a member of the English and Japanese sociological societies as well as an honorary member of the American Sociological Society. His work was well known to several early American sociologists profiled in this book, including Albion Small (chapter 1), Robert E. Park (above), and Louis Wirth (below) (Cahnman and Heberle 1971).

Barry Wellman

Barry Wellman (1942-) developed the study of communities as social networks. In addition to teaching sociology at the University of Toronto, he directs the university’s NetLab and conducts research with several outside labs and institutes, including the Centre for Urban and Community Studies. Much of Wellman’s recent research analyzes computer networks as social networks. This covers a range of diverse topics, including the use of computers in our daily lives, virtual communities, the use of virtual workgroups, telecommuting, social support, social networks, and international comparisons of Internet use.

He has authored, coauthored, or edited over 200 articles and several books. Wellman has presented his work in almost 20 countries, and his work has been translated into numerous languages. His many awards and honors include the International Network for Personal Relationships’ 1998 Mentoring Award and an Outstanding Lifetime Contribution Award by the Canadian Sociological and Anthropological Association bestowed in 2001. He was honored in 2001 by the University of Toronto, Department of Sociology “Barryfest” Conference entitled “Social Structure in a Changing World: Presentations in Honor of Barry Wellman.” His sociology department’s undergraduate research prize is designated the Barry Wellman Prize.

Wellman is founder of the International Network for Social Network Analysis and the sociology journal City and Community. His coedited book Social Structures: A Network Approach (1988) was named as a Book of the Century by the International Sociological Association. He also coined the phrases network city, network of networks, and networked individualism, which are widely used in network analyses. Wellman is Chair of the Communication and Information Section and Chair-Emeritus of the Community and Urban Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association (Wellman, “Barry Well-man”).

Louis Wirth

Louis Wirth (1897-1952) was born in Gemunden, Germany. When he was 14, Wirth and a sister migrated to Omaha, Nebraska, to live with an uncle. Although Wirth was expected to work in the family dry-goods business after graduation, he won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. He began college as a pre-medical student but changed his major to sociology, becoming active in political, antiwar, and social causes (Salerno 1987). Wirth became a sociologist because “he believed that a science of human behavior was not only possible but indispensable to social betterment” (Sheldon 1968, 558).

After graduation, Wirth did not have the money to continue his education, so he took a position as a social worker. He was able to save enough money to visit his family in Germany and then to enter graduate school at the University of Chicago upon his return to America. To pay for his studies, Wirth taught introductory sociology courses. He continued to teach at Chicago after earning his doctorate in 1926. When he did not receive a full-time faculty position, he accepted a position at Tulane University. After traveling to Europe on a Social Science Research Council fellowship, he returned to Chicago as an assistant professor in 1931 (Salerno 1987).

Together with Edward Shils, Wirth translated German sociologist Karl Mannheim’s work Ideology and Utopia into English. He incorporated German sociological literature into his courses and works, including his own application of Ferdinand Toennies’s concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Wirth’s biographer Roger A. Salerno notes that Wirth’s “study of urbanism … is the starting point for the construction of all modern urban sociological theory” (1987, vii).

Although Wirth is largely associated with urban sociology, he was influential in a number of areas. He was a president of the American Sociological Association and the first president of the International Sociological Association. In addition to his academic activities, Wirth was a government consultant and activist. He took an active role in an assortment of civic groups, hosted a radio show for NBC in conjunction with University of Chicago, served on the Urbanism Committee of the National Resources Planning Board, served as director of planning of the Illinois Post War Planning Commission, and was a founder and director of the American Council on Race Relations. Additionally, Wirth financed and housed the migration of 13 Jewish family members to the United States to escape Nazi Germany. By the time of his death, he was also deeply involved in civil rights, dying of a heart attack after delivering a keynote address on race relations (Salerno 1987, vii-49; Sheldon 1968).