Quantifying the Rural-Urban Gradient in Latin America and the Caribbean
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3634
36 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2005
Date Written: June 2005
This paper addresses the deceptively simple question: what is the rural population of Latin America and the Caribbean? It argues that rurality is a gradient, not a dichotomy, and nominates two dimensions to that gradient: population density, and remoteness from large metropolitan areas. It uses geographically referenced population data (from the Gridded Population of the World, version 3) to tabulate the distribution of populations in Latin America, and in individual countries, by population density and by remoteness. It finds that the popular perception of Latin America as a 75% urban continent is misleading. Official census criteria, though inconsistent between countries, tend to classify as 'urban' small settlements of less than 2000 people. Many of these settlements are however embedded in an agriculturally based countryside. The paper finds that about 13% of LAC populations live at ultra-low densities, of less than 20 per square kilometer. Essentially all these people are more than an hour distant from a large city, and more than half live more than four hours distant. A quarter of LAC population is estimated to live at densities below 50, again essentially all of them more than an hour distant from a large city. Almost half (46%) of LAC lives at population densities below 150 (a conventional threshold for urban areas), and more than 90% of this group is at least an hour distant from a city; about a third of them (18% of LAC total) are more than four hours' distant from a large city.
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