Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Rural Population Change in Nova Scotia, 1991-2001: Bivariate and Multivariate Analysis of Key Drivers

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Rural Population Change in Nova Scotia, 1991-2001: Bivariate and Multivariate Analysis of Key Drivers

Article excerpt


Both population increase and population decline can be problematic in rural areas. There is much discussion in the literature on their negative social and economic consequences, and appropriate mitigative policies. For excessive growth in the urban commuter zones (rural-urban fringe), key issues relate to preservation of prime farmland, rationalisation of service delivery (sprawl versus concentration), minimisation of land speculation and preservation of amenity values (Bryant et al. 1982; Cloke 1983; Davis et al. 1994; Gilg 1998; Bryant et al. 2000; Beesley et al. 2003). Depopulation typically occurs in more remote areas; it is initiated by loss of employment, effected through out-migration, and exacerbated by the 'vicious cycle' of decline depicted in the Drudy-Gilg model (Drudy 1978; Gilg 1983). It leads to a range of social and economic ills (White 1980; Robinson 1990; Smailes 1997; Feser and Sweeney 1998), but particularly to the loss of critical population thresholds necessary for viable services and infrastructure (e.g., Salyards and Leitner 1981; Pacione 1982; Furuseth 1998; Wensley and Stabler 1998; Adamchak et al. 1999).

The human costs of depopulation are arguably more severe than those related to excessive exurban growth, and they are counterbalanced by fewer positive impacts (though there are some environmental benefits). Depopulation also affects larger swathes of the Canadian ecumene, though perhaps fewer people. This article examines the interplay of both depopulation and population growth within the province of Nova Scotia and employs a variety of graphical and statistical approaches to examine the causal factors accounting for each.

Nova Scotia provides a useful case study of recent population changes, since it is of manageable size, self-contained and predominantly rural. Within a moderate area, however, it contains a wide range of environmental, economic and demographic conditions, and has districts situated along the entire accessibility/isolation scale, from remote wilderness to metropolitan fringe. As a consequence, while depopulation is widespread, there are also pockets of rapid urban-fringe growth.

The present study explores a variety of bivariate relationships suggested in the Drudy-Gilg model, of both causal and covariant types, focusing particularly on rural districts in Nova Scotia. Population change is related to the effects of six causal variables through the use of scattergrams and bivariate least-squares regression. The separate contributions of the variables are disentangled through the use of both factor analysis and multiple regression. An important argument developed in the article is that isolation from urban opportunities should be regarded as an independent cause of net out-migration, so that depopulation in remote districts can occur even in the presence of a buoyant local economy. Conversely, the labour market areas (commuter belts) of larger towns can exhibit population growth despite depressed economic conditions.

Rural population change is a broad topic, and a detailed literature review is inappropriate here. The reader is referred to standard texts on demography (Newell 1990; Weinstein and Pillai 2001; Weeks 2002) and to several excellent texts on population geography (Witherick 1990; Barrett 1992; Jones 1996; Peters and Larkin 1999). There are also more specific geographic treatments of migration (White and Woods 1980; Lewis 1982; Ogden 1984; Boyle et al. 1998). The important role of labour migration (typically rural to urban) is considered in Johnson and Sait (1990), while urban to rural migration (often commuter-related) is the focus of the essays in Boyle and Halfacree (1998). Useful summaries of theory and empirical research on rural population and migration issues can be found in Gilg (1983) and Lewis (1998), while the issue of rural depopulation is summarised by Robinson (1990). A comparable study to the present one, though conducted at the coarser county level and employing linear correlation only, is Archer's (1992) study of the American Great Plains. …

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