Urban inequality and the demographic transformation of shrinking cities: The role of the foreign born

Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, Rachel S. Franklin, Peter Rogerson, Eric Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Urban inequality and demography are inextricably linked. Inequality measures capture differences in access, outcomes, and characteristics for urban populations, and changes to these metrics are the result of underlying demographic change, which is in itself an unequal process. In this paper, we address the demographic transformation occurring across US metropolitan areas in recent years and evaluate the extent to which population change—a key index of economic opportunity and well-being—has been underpinned by the foreign born. In particular, our interest lies with shrinking and at-risk-of-shrinking metropolitan and micropolitan areas and the degree to which immigrants have impacted population change. We decompose foreign-born population contributions by place of origin, linking origin and destination geographies and also focus more specifically on the connections between city-suburb growth patterns and the role of the foreign born by place of birth. We find evidence that urban population loss is accompanied by increases in the foreign born, resulting in substantial transformation of the population composition of both central cities and outlying, suburban areas. Furthermore, we find that a number of areas avoided population loss during our study period, solely through net increases in the foreign born. Our findings are important from an urban inequality standpoint, suggesting an important role for the foreign born in mediating inter-city inequality, but also highlighting the need for strong policy responses that focus on the long-term integration and provision of services for these groups in order to mitigate the potential for increased inequality within and across these areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102168
JournalApplied Geography
StatePublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Averted loss
  • Foreign born
  • Immigration
  • Population loss
  • Shrinking cities
  • Spatial inequality
  • Urban demography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • General Environmental Science
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


Dive into the research topics of 'Urban inequality and the demographic transformation of shrinking cities: The role of the foreign born'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this