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URBAN
Urban/rural status

Description

URBAN indicates whether a household's location was urban or rural. It is one of the most used geographic variables and one of the most problematic. Definitions of "urban" vary from year to year - see the background and comparability sections - but the term generally denotes all cities and incorporated places of 2,500+ inhabitants. (All areas not classified as urban are designated rural.)

Background:
The Census Office first used an urban definition of 8,000 or more inhabitants in the 1880 census, and provided a tabulation of the number of places designated as urban and the size of urban population back to 1790. Beginning in 1910, the Census Bureau defined as urban population "that residing in cities and other incorporated places of 2,500 inhabitants or more, including New England towns of that size." The Bureau went on to note that in most regions, densely populated areas of 2,500 are set off from rural territory and incorporated as municipalities (cities, towns, villages, boroughs, etc.). In New England, however, it was not typically the practice to set off densely populated areas from towns (townships) as cities unless they obtained a population of ten thousand or more. Although many New England towns were distinctly rural throughout and others contained densely populated areas, the Census Bureau considered all towns of 2,500 or more inhabitants as urban. The urban population in New England, therefore, included some individuals which, in other regions, would be designated as living in rural areas. Since most New England towns of 2,500 or more were densely population, however, the Bureau argued that the definition did not greatly exaggerate the urban population.

In 1920 the Census Bureau modified their treatment of the New England States of Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont by only considering incorporated municipalities with a population of at least 2,500 as urban for those states. In 1930, the Census Bureau slightly modified and extended the definition of urban. Although still, for the most part, comprised of cities and incorporated places of 2,500 inhabitants or more, the 1930 census returns also considered townships and other political subdivisions (not incorporated as municipalities) having a total population of 10,000 or more, and a population density of 1,000 or more per square mile, as urban. The extension added to the urban group 11 townships in New Jersey, 10 townships in Pennsylvania, 4 towns in Connecticut, 2 townships in California, and 1 town in New York that would have been considered rural under the 1920 definition. The aggregate population of these 28 places was 573,329. In the three New England states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, the Census Bureau modified their prior practice of classifying all towns of 2,500 or more inhabitants as urban, since it was now believed to include a considerable number of places that were mainly rural in their general characteristics. The new special rule was to consider as urban "in addition to the regularly incorporated cities" only those towns in which there was a village or thickly settled area having more than 2,500 inhabitants and comprising, either by itself or when combined with other villages within the same town, more than 50 percent of the total population of the town. As a result, 12 towns in New Hampshire, 56 towns in Massachusetts, and 8 towns in Rhode Island were considered rural that would have been considered urban under the 1920 definition. The aggregate population of these 76 towns was 288,621.

The 1940 Census Bureau maintained the urban definition used by the 1930 Census Bureau. Under the special rules maintained for New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, 102 towns were designated as urban (7 in New Hampshire, 83 in Massachusetts, and 12 in Rhode Island). Significantly for the creation of the IPUMS samples, the 1940 Census Bureau applied the definition to earlier census years (a practice the 1910 Census Bureau judged "extremely difficult, if at all possible" in censuses before 1880), and reported the urban-rural population by state between 1790 and 1940. Although it is unclear how accurately the 1930 definition could have been applied to census returns, the urban series produced by the 1940 Census Bureau is the only attempt to create a comparable urban-rural definition across time and is commonly cited by historians.

In 2002, the IPUMS project obtained a transcription of the places and their urban population used by the 1940 Census Bureau to construct their historical series. All IPUMS samples for the censuses before 1950 employ the 1930-1940 definition of urban.

Codes and Frequencies



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Comparability

Census definitions of urban and rural have changed slightly over the years, especially for New England towns and large, unincorporated places.

  • 1850-1940: The urban area is made up for the most part of households in cities and incorporated places with 2,500+ inhabitants. Also includes households in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island towns (townships) containing a village or thickly settled area of 2,500 or more inhabitants and comprising, either by itself or when combined with other villages within the same town, more than 50 percent of the total population of the town. Also includes townships and other political subdivisions (not incorporated municipalities) with a total population of 10,000 or more and a population density of 1,000 or more per square mile.
  • 1960 1 % The definition is the same as for later years, except that the 1960 census did not yet employ the "urbanized area" concept (rule 3, below). However, the 1960 census did classify some urban areas by "special rule." These included certain towns in New England and townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that contained no incorporated municipalities within their borders but had a population density of at least 1,500 people per square mile. Arlington County, VA also fell into this category. In addition, any New England town or New Jersey or Pennsylvania township with 25,000+ residents was classified as urban. Most of these areas would have been included in urbanized areas or census-designated urban places from 1970 through 1990.
  • 1970, 1980, and 1990: three types of areas were considered urban:
  • All incorporated cities and villages; boroughs (except in Alaska and New York); and towns (except in New England, New York, and Wisconsin) with 2,500+ residents, excluding rural portions of "extended cities;"
  • Census-designated "places" (CDPs) with 2,500+ residents;
  • Other territory (incorporated or not) included in "urbanized areas" (see URBAREA). The 1980 and 1990 "urbanized areas" include some territory around smaller urban centers that would not have been classified as urban in 1970.

1960 and 1970 census confidentiality rules required that households in states with either rural or urban populations (or both) less than 250,000 be classified "N/A" for this variable. In both 1960 and 1970, Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming were coded as N/A; in 1960, North Dakota also received the N/A code.

URBAN is unavailable for Puerto Rico in 1980 and 1990.

User Note: Urban/rural status was not a variable in the original samples for 1990. The IPUMS derives URBAN from the universe for farm status, which was only applicable to rural households (i.e., any household out of the universe for FARM is by definition urban).

Universe

  • 1850-1940: All households and group quarters.
  • 1960-1970: All households and group quarters in states with both 250,000+ rural and 250,000+ urban residents.
  • 1980-1990: All households and group quarters; not available for Puerto Rico.

Availability

United States
  • 2016: --
  • 2015: --
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  • 2012: --
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  • 2004: --
  • 2003: --
  • 2002: --
  • 2001: --
  • 2000: --
  • 1990: All samples
  • 1980: 1% urban; 1% metro/non-metro
  • 1970: 1% state fm1; 1% state fm2
  • 1960: 1%
  • 1950: --
  • 1940: All samples
  • 1930: All samples
  • 1920: All samples
  • 1910: All samples
  • 1900: All samples
  • 1880: All samples
  • 1870: All samples
  • 1860: All samples
  • 1850: All samples
Puerto Rico
  • 2016: --
  • 2015: --
  • 2014: --
  • 2013: --
  • 2012: --
  • 2011: --
  • 2010: --
  • 2009: --
  • 2008: --
  • 2007: --
  • 2006: --
  • 2005: --
  • 2000: --
  • 1990: --
  • 1980: --
  • 1970: PR 5% state
  • 1930: All samples
  • 1920: All samples
  • 1910: All samples

Flags

QCITY 

Editing Procedure

There is no editing procedure available for this variable.