Urban Areas: Population, Family Life, and Community in Cities

Who Lives in Urban Areas?

Urban areas provide access to a variety of entertainment, cultural and business opportunities. They also may have more convenient and accessible public transportation.

While there’s no standardized definition for what constitutes an urban area, the statistics below reflect how each country defines and reports its share of urban residents.

1. People with jobs

Urban areas are locations with high population density and are often home to a person’s place of employment. This can create opportunities for health such as sidewalks and public transit, but it can also pose challenges such as sedentary commuting and air quality.

The majority of the world’s people live in urban areas, with most living in cities. This trend has accelerated over the past few decades as more people have moved from rural communities to towns and cities.

The world’s urban shares vary by country. In most high-income countries, like those in Western Europe, North America, Australia and Japan, more than 80% of the population lives in cities. In most lower- to middle-income countries, however, urbanization is much slower. Only in Kuwait, the UAE and Puerto Rico do more than half of the population live in large cities, while most other countries lie between 40 and 50%. This is why global urbanization is one of the most important 21st century trends to monitor.

2. People with families

Urban areas are often crowded, which can have a negative impact on family life and health. Children may be exposed to high levels of stress or anxiety, and families might not have access to healthy foods and affordable housing.

Many cities, including large metropolitan areas such as Boston and Washington, D.C., are so large that they’re sometimes referred to as megalopolises. When urban and suburban areas become so dense that they start to overlap, they’re called a megacity.

Overall, people living in urban areas are more likely than those who live in rural settings to say they think their community is a good place to raise children. But they’re also more likely to say that drug addiction, crime, the quality of public schools and racism are major problems in their area. This is especially true among low-income residents. Fortunately, cities and towns can take steps to address these concerns. Some, for example, offer programs that encourage affordable housing for families and work to build more walkable neighborhoods.

3. People with friends

Across urban, suburban, and rural communities, Americans are making friends in similar ways. Some meet close friends through their jobs, others in school or existing friend networks, and still more at their neighborhoods, houses of worship, or clubs or organizations.

Many people who live in cities say they are very satisfied with the number of friends they have. Close to six in ten Black and Hispanic Americans who live in urban areas feel this way, compared with four in ten White Americans.

Amid concerns about loneliness in America, adults are more likely to see living in a place with a strong sense of community as important than they did in 2018. But what might be missing from this picture is the kind of robust walksheds where members of a neighborhood regularly encounter one another doing errands and walking their dogs, playing in the parks, or even just hanging out in front of restaurants and shops.

4. People with schools

Despite the fact that urban areas often refer to cities, towns and their surrounding regions, there are a wide range of perceptions about what constitutes an “urban area.” Communities that fit the statistical definition (based on population density or housing units) may not be well-known as “urban” because they have smaller populations or function socially and economically more like suburbs. When communities with large populations are combined, they can become known as a metropolitan area or a megalopolis (e.g., Greater Boston or Greater London).

By definition, a city is an urban area, but many of the world’s most populated countries have comparably low levels of urbanization. Clicking on a country on the map will reveal how its urbanization rate compares to other countries and whether it is expected to grow or shrink over time. The chart also shows the percentage of a country’s population that lives in an urban area. The majority of high-income countries in Europe, the Americas and Australia are expected to be mostly urban by 2050.

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