Outward population movements

By Matt Burdett, 28 May 2018.

On this page, we look at centrifugal population movements, including suburbanization and counter-urbanization.

Types of population movement in urban areas

There are major similarities with migration theory when looking at how populations move around urban areas. Lee’s model of migration describes push and pull factors along with intervening obstacles. It suggests that people move due to the desire to find a better place to live and work. The movements here can largely be seen in the same way. However, various levels of government (local, regional, national) government deliberately create the conditions in different parts of the city to encourage certain types of movement. This can be through housing policies (e.g. allowing better quality housing to be built on the outskirts), tax breaks for businesses (encouraging people back to the inner city) and so on.

The movements can be seen as inward or outward:

  • Centrifugal movements are movements of people out from the centre of the urban area.
  • Centripetal movements are movements of people in the direction of the centre of the urban area, or from the surrounding rural areas into the urban area.

It’s important to recognise that almost all cities experience both centripetal and centrifugal movements simultaneously. This is due to the huge variation in wealth, income, employment, health and education requirements, and so on – all of these affect where people choose to live.

Centrifugal movements in urban areas

Centrifugal movements are outward movements. They most commonly occur in countries with a high level of economic development but can occur in all cities. The history of European and North American cities in the 19th and 20th centuries reflected this movement, creating the ‘wealthy outer suburbs’ of the Burgess model. More recently, some industrial cities in Middle and Low Income Countries have experienced centrifugal movements due to the congestion, pollution and social problems associated with city life.


This is a decentralising movement as people move to larger, more spacious residential areas on the urban edge. This is partly due to overcrowding in cities that experience an increasing population. There are other reasons too, shared with counterurbanisation.

Suburbs are an increasingly important aspect of the city, as they cover large land areas and require extensive urban infrastructure such as water pipes and electricity cables, as well as new transport infrastructure.

The development of suburbs often falls into two broad categories regarding how much the city can grow outwards:

  • Limited: Major obstacles prevent outward growth, such as coastlines and rivers, and more recently the development of ‘ring roads’ around cities. Non-physical obstacles include planning restrictions and
  • Unlimited: As a result of the lack of strict planning, or physical barriers, the city keeps growing, resulting in urban sprawl.


This is the movement of people away from larger towns and cities to smaller settlements. It is not the opposite of urbanization i.e. is it not the decreasing proportion of people living in urban areas compared to rural areas.

Once they have moved, people frequently continue to rely on the urban area for employment, services and so on. Counterurbanization is driven by several factors that can be associated with migration.

Push factors

  • overcrowding
  • lack of space for family groups to expand
  • crime rates (although these are frequently stable or dropping, the perception of crime is that it increases)

Pull factors

  • better quality environment
  • better schools and other services
  • cheaper housing cost allows greater use of space

Reduction of intervening obstacles

  • teleworking allows people to live in decentralised areas
  • better transport infrastructure removes
  • government planning for development of new towns increases the housing stock away from the larger cities


No specific sources were used to write this page.

Outward population movements: Learning activities


  1. Distinguish between centripetal and centrifugal movement of population in urban areas. [2]
  2. What kind of countries are generally associated with centrifugal population movements? [1]
  3. What is meant by the term ‘suburb’? [1]
  4. Explain why suburbanisation is common in some countries. [4]
  5. Define the term ‘counterurbanization’. [2]
  6. Outline the push and pull factors that lead to counterurbanization. [4]
  7. Outline three factors that may have to be overcome for counterurbanization to occur. [6]

Other tasks

Create an infographic of this page in conjunction with your notes from the population section of your course. Remember to consider the audience when thinking about colour, text styles and font size.