The cities of developing countries will absorb 95 per cent of all urban growth over the next two decades, and by 2030 will be home to almost 4 billion people, or 80 per cent of the world’s urban population. The increased rural-urban migration, urban-urban migration, natural increase and the reclassification of many rural areas to urban, contribute to the urbanisation in Africa, Asia and Latin America (Campbell-Landrum and Corvalan, 2007).

Nevertheless, Cohen (2006) argues that Latin America is far more urbanized than Africa or Asia. The level of urbanization in Latin America-around 76 percent-already matches that of North America as well as many European countries. Consequently, the rate of urbanization in Latin America is quite slow. On the other hand, Asia and Africa, still both heavily dependent on agriculture are predominantly rural in character although both had around 37 percent of their populations living in urban areas in 2000. Thus, these two regions are expected to experience relatively faster rates of urbanization over the next 30 years.

This paper discusses the merits of the statement advanced by some scholars in urbanization that natural population increase is the main cause of urbanization in developing countries.

Key words: Urbanization, natural population increase and rural-urban migration



According to Long (1998) Urbanization is the process by which large numbers of people become permanently concentrated in relatively small areas, forming cities. A country is considered to be urbanized when over 50 per cent of its population lives in the urban areas. Criteria used to define urban can include population size, space, density and economic organization. Usually, however, urban is simply defined by some base line size, like 20 000 people. Anyway this definition varies between regions and cities.

No wonder Cohen (2006) asserts that undertaking research on urbanization particularly in less developed countries presents major challenges. The most fundamental problem is that there is no global standard for the classification of urban environments.

Natural population increase

According to the Eurostat Glossary on Demographic Statistics (2000) natural population increase is the difference between the number of live births and the number of deaths during the year. The natural increase (or natural decrease) is negative when the number of deaths exceeds the number of births. According to Long (1998) natural increase of urbanization can occur if the natural population growth in the cities is higher than in the rural areas.

Rural-Urban migration

Internal rural to urban migration means that people move from rural areas to urban areas. In this process the number of people living in cities increases compared with the number of people living in rural areas (Long, 1998).

Natural Population increase: Urbanization in Developing Countries

Campbell-Landrum and Corvalan (2007) argue that most important driving factor of global urbanisation is natural population growth in existing urban settings. However, rural-to-urban migration is an important factor in some contexts. They further warn that the current nature of urbanisation can only be understood within the macro-political and social contexts of individual countries and overall global trends. For example, there is need to understand the process and causes of urbanisation, particularly with reference to the political economy and the impact of capitalism on rural areas.

An essential feature of current African urbanization is that it appears to be driven by in built momentum of natural population increase in urban areas. According to United Nations (2004) the population of Africa was growing rapidly-almost twice as fast as any other major region of the world. Although African fertility has started to fall, simple population momentum ensures that the total population of the region will continue to increase: from 794 million in 2000 to 1.489 billion in 2030. Approximately, 70 percent of this growth will take place in African cities and towns. By 2025, African society will become predominantly urban.

In developing nations, fertility rates are still high thus natural population increase still continues to contribute significantly to urbanization. However, in urban areas natural increase is not high because fertility rate is often lower compared with rural regions. Fertility rates are largely dependent on economic considerations. As economic wellbeing increases, the fertility level decreases. Security about the future and alternatives to family life in the cities are the main reasons for this decrease (Long, 1998). Education level has similar effect as economic wellbeing to the fertility rates. For example, in Taiwan and South Korea, rising education level has resulted in smaller families, and population growth has fallen by half. If the health care is proper and infant mortality rate low, like in developed countries, the fertility rate is often also low (Gugler, 1997).

Therefore, because of the in-built momentum of high fertility rates in developing countries Baqui (2009) argues that about 60% of the urban population growth in developing countries is due to natural increase. The remaining 40% is attributable to net rural-urban migration and reclassification of rural areas into urban sites. However, these relative contributions vary by the status of overall socioeconomic development of a location. As fertility levels decline and economic development increases, migration assumes a greater role in determining the pace of urban growth. In Africa, for example, natural increase accounts for 75% of urban growth, compared with about 51% in Asia. In China which has experienced rapid economic growth, only 28% of the urban growth results from natural increase. The demographic dynamics underlying urban growth are complex.

On the contrary, Cohen (2006) argues that because rates of natural increase are generally slightly lower in urban than in rural areas, the principal reasons for rising levels of urbanization are rural-urban migration, the geographic expansion of urban areas through annexations and the transformation and reclassification of rural villages into small urban settlements. The expansion of the metropolitan periphery can be caused both by the arrival of new migrants and by the sub-urbanization of the middle class out of the central city. The relative importance of each of these various causes of urbanization and suburbanization varies both within and between regions and countries.

It must be noted though that people may move to the city because they are pushed by poverty from rural communities or they may be pulled by the attractions of city lives. Combination of these push and pull factors make people move to cities. In many parts of the world rural population growth, shortage of arable land, environmental deterioration and unemployment are the major problems causing rural urban migration. These circumstances make migration the only opportunity to farming people (Gugler, 1997).


There are three major components of urban population growth: natural growth of urban population, rural urban migration and the reclassification of areas previously defined as rural in developing nations. Natural increase provides a base for urban population growth rates, and rural-urban migration and reclassification supplement this growth. Anyhow the natural increase of the population in the city often declines sharply together with the urbanization process that has happened for example, in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (Stutz and Souza, 1998).


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