Reshaping the Urban-Rural Divide in the 21st Century: Shifts in the Geographies of Urban-Based Livelihoods

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In the 20th century, the urban-rural divide drove urbanization in much of the world by encouraging migration from rural to urban areas. There were always marked regional variations in the outcomes of this process as net migration rates to cities waxed and waned in response to shifts in the costs and benefits of urban-based livelihoods. Newer factors affecting incomes and the costs of urban living have also arisen and influenced the nature of the divide. These include shifts in the global geography of different types of urban-based employment and significant rises in the costs of urban housing, which are reshaping livelihoods and migration patterns in many large cities across the world. In the Global North, the population of some large cities would dwindle without international immigration. This paper draws on examples from across the world to discuss these global urban livelihood shifts and their implications for understanding the urban-rural divide. It will show that the internationalization of the divide has rendered national policies insufficient for reducing inequalities across it.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of International Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2022


  • Rural-urban divide
  • Migration
  • Urbanization
  • Urban economies
  • international migration
  • Urban housing
  • Urban fertility


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