Straddling the Great Divide: Migration and Population Change in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains


Evelyn D. Ravuri

Within the collective conscious of the U.S. population, the Rocky Mountain region represents unspoiled natural beauty, recreational opportunities, solace, and an array of other pleasant factors, while the Great Plains is viewed by many as a landscape of limited physical, economic, and cultural interest. For most of the twentieth century, the Great Plains has been a region of net outmigration and population loss. During the early decades of the twentieth century, technological innovations in farm equipment reduced the need for an agricultural labor force and large numbers of individuals left the rural areas of the Great Plains. By the 1970s, economic restructuring and globalization further depleted the Great Plains of population as agribusinesses replaced the family farm as units of agricultural production. However, the Great Plains contains 876 counties spread over 13 states, and much variability in population change has occurred over the twentieth century with the western part of the Great Plains experiencing less of a decline in population than the central and eastern parts. Population change in the Rocky Mountains over the twentieth century experienced a much more inconsistent pattern of growth and decline than that of the Great Plains due to the boom and bust periods associated with the mining and lumbering industries. However, since the 1970s, the Rocky Mountains has experienced rapid net inmigration and population growth, largely a result of innovations in communication and transportation technology which led to less of a need for individuals to be rooted to a certain place, and allowed people to migrate to counties with environmental amenities.

(Posted Online on May 2, 2008)