Almost 80 percent of the population in the United States lives in an urban area. This number shows no sign of declining, as people move from rural areas to cities, often in search of better job opportunities. This pattern of migration affects not only the often-overcrowded urban areas, but the rural areas that people leave behind.
The movement of people from rural areas to urban areas, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, can put a strain on a city's infrastructure. Roads and freeways become overcrowded as new construction struggles to keep up with the demand. Wait time at emergency rooms can become a public health issue as hospitals may not be equipped to handle the increase in population. Schools may not have the budget to hire additional personnel or build new buildings, which can lead to overcrowding in classrooms.
As the population density of urban areas increases, so do the signs of overcrowding. Real estate prices often go up as demand outpaces the supply of housing. This can lead to individuals living in small spaces with several other people, leading to the rise of slums. Urban overcrowding can also place severe financial strain on people who have lived in the area for years, but who must cope with rapidly rising rents. As the number of cars on urban streets increases, so does the pollution that is emitted, which can cause the public health problem of increased respiratory disease among the population. Overcrowding can also increase stress levels, as people deal with having less physical space and quiet in their environment.
As many people, especially young adults, leave rural areas for the cities, they leave family behind. As a result, extended family systems begin to disintegrate. The result is often a lack of childcare and eldercare for family members. As younger people leave rural areas, marriage prospects for young adults who decide to stay can decline. If rural to urban migration takes place across borders, young adults may have very limited contact with their family of origin.
Rural to urban migration is characterized by a lack of balance. Cities get overcrowded, while the rural areas suffer as well. When people move out of rural areas, the lower population can prevent the area from being able to attract new industry, according to Bruce Weber, et.al. in the journal "Review of Agricultural Economics." Existing businesses not only will not expand, but often fail entirely in the absence of sufficient consumers. This can create a vicious cycle that leads to even greater numbers of individuals abandoning rural areas.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.