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Posts Tagged ‘urbanism’

Once upon a time (actually about 50 years ago) when I started doing research on social psychological differences between urban and rural people, many authorities dismissed the whole question as out of date. Sure, city-country cultural differences were once vast and important, but in the modern era of interstate highways, telephones, television, nationwide markets, and the like, such differences were gone or pretty soon would be. country mouse

Now, after a half-century more of those distance-shrinking changes plus the internet, cheap air travel, and so on, a Pew Research Center report has gotten media attention by highlighting notable differences in the cultural views of Americans according to whether they lived–or whether they said that they lived–in a city, a suburb, or a rural place. Add this report to the political polarization between city and country highlighted in the Trump victory–he won rural and small towns by about 25 points and lost cities over 50,000 by about the same–and it looks as if city-country differences are alive and well in the 21st century.

There is, however, a technical issue–an interesting technical issue–in the Pew analysis. Whether people say they live in city, suburb, or country partly reflects obvious demographic facts. (Few residents of New York City would tell a pollster that they live in the country–although a vice-presidential candidate did once claim that her Queens neighborhood was just like a small town.) But where survey respondents say they live is also shaped by their stereotypes of city, suburb, and country.[1] So, for example, a socially conservative person who feels that her neighbors share those views might, in an ambiguous setting like a low-density suburb, say she lives in a rural place, because it feels culturally rural. Such subjective answers to “Where do you live?” would make city-suburb-rural differences look greater than they really are.

So, let’s take another look. I’ll ask whether there really are place-based differences in cultural views today, whether they are diminishing as notions about modern technology suggest, and whether those differences really are about the places.

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