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A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West

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Abstract and Figures

As we have detailed in the preceding chapter, rural America has experienced unprecedented demographic and social changes over the past half-century. Rapid population growth has occurred in some areas, while at the same time other rural communities have experienced significant population decline and economic stagnation. These changes are altering the foundations of rural American communities and reshaping their economic, social, and resource bases. This paradox of rural growth and change, in which some areas and locales prosper and at times grow too quickly while others wither, represents a crucial challenge to rural development policy and practice in the twenty-first century.
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27
Introduction
As we have detailed in the preceding chapter, rural America has experienced
unprecedented demographic and social changes over the past half-century. Rapid
population growth has occurred in some areas, while at the same time other rural
communities have experienced significant population decline and economic stagnation.
These changes are altering the foundations of rural American communities and
Chapter 3
A Sociodemographic Portrait
of the Intermountain West*
*
Chapter authored by Rebecca Schewe, Donald R. Field, Richard S. Krannich, and A.E. Luloff.
Richard Krannich
R.S. Krannich et al., People, Places and Landscapes:
Social Change in High Amenity Rural Areas, Landscape Series 14,
DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-1263-8_3, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011
28 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
reshaping their economic, social, and resource bases. This paradox of rural growth
and change, in which some areas and locales prosper and at times grow too quickly
while others wither, represents a crucial challenge to rural development policy and
practice in the twenty-first century.
In this chapter we examine 30 years of sociodemographic change in the
Intermountain West region, highlighting the role of the environment and natural
amenities in advancing growth and development. Consistent with the multi-level
analytic strategies that inform our approach to this study, our focus in this chapter
is initially on the region as a whole. After providing a regional overview, we shift
the analytic scale to examine similarities and differences across eight spatially
distinct physiographic provinces differentiated by terrain and topography across
this vast and wide-ranging region.
The findings detailed in the following pages highlight substantial variability in
patterns of growth and change that occurred in recent decades across these physio-
graphic provinces, and help illuminate some important ways in which spatially
differentiated environmental and landscape contexts interact with and influence
social and demographic conditions and trends. In brief, those physiographic pro-
vinces advantaged by a concentration of highly desirable natural amenities the
Rocky Mountains and the Colorado Plateaus – consistently demonstrate high levels
of growth and development. In contrast, the less amenity-rich Great Plains and
Wyoming Basin provinces have struggled to capture their share of population
and economic growth. The variation in sociodemographic change patterns observed
across the physiographic provinces of the Intermountain West reaffirms the impor-
tant role of resource conditions, natural amenities, and recreation opportunities as
major drivers of population growth and development in modern rural America.
The Intermountain West
The western portion of the United States has experienced rapid population growth
during recent decades, moving from the least populous region in 1980 to the third-
most populated region in the nation by 1990 (Perry 2002). This rapid growth
continued through the 1990s, with Park, Elbert, and Douglas counties, Colorado,
registering the highest rates of growth within the region during the decade, and
Maricopa County, Arizona, and Clark County, Nevada, registering the largest
numerical increases. In terms of population loss during the 1990s, however, the two
largest declines in the West occurred in Sweetwater and Carbon Counties, Wyoming
(Perry 2002), both of which had previously experienced extensive growth related to
energy resource development during the 1970s and 1980s. In this sense, the western
United States helps define the rural paradox, simultaneously demonstrating growth
and decline across spatially-differentiated locales throughout the region.
Our focus in this chapter is on the Intermountain West, a region exemplifying
the full spectrum of economic and sociodemographic transformations affecting
much of rural America. The Intermountain West includes portions of Colorado,
Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana and contains some of the nation’s most rapidly
29Methods
expanding rural areas (portions of Colorado and Utah), as well as agricultural areas
of the Great Plains that have experienced sharp and sustained decline. The area
is home to the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and thousands of
acres of public forests, parks, monuments, and lands with unique natural resources
that have been and remain highly important in shaping the economies and the social
structures of rural communities throughout the region.
Methods
All data used for analysis in this chapter are drawn from the United States Decennial
Census for the years 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000. The historical census data were
derived from the GeoLytics census software packages for 1970 and 1980; 1990 and
2000 data were obtained through the Census Bureau’s web-resource, American
Fact Finder.
For the purposes of the ensuing analysis, we defined the nonmetropolitan
Intermountain West at the county level, excluding metropolitan counties surrounding
Salt Lake City, Utah, and Boise, Idaho. In total, the nonmetropolitan Intermountain
West includes 134 counties, with 130 of those counties classified into a primary
physiographic province constituting at least two-thirds of the county’s land area.
Key sociodemographic data were initially analyzed at both a state and physio-
graphic provincial level.
1
The variables of comparison included: total population,
population 65 years of age or older, total number of housing units, number of
vacant housing units for seasonal or recreational use, percent of the population
with at least 1 year of college education, median family income, and families with
incomes over $50,000.
Our analysis is based upon the physiographic regions of the United States as
defined by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) North American Tapestry
Project. The spatial data for these regions were also provided by the Project.
2
The
USGS classifications are based on Nevin Fenneman’s 1931 report on the physio-
graphic regions of the United States and utilize his three-tiered classification system.
We chose to perform our analysis at the provincial level in order to balance the
specificity and diversity of the area’s regions with the need for identifying gener-
alizable trends. Provincial categories provided the most appropriate level of geo-
graphically specific data upon which to base our analysis and conclusions.
1
After analyzing the data with counties grouped at the state level versus counties grouped by
physiographic province, we determined the physiographic level better represented the patterns of
change. There were more similarities among counties within the same physiographic province
than among counties within the same state.
2
The Basin and Range province contains 11 counties, Colorado Plateaus 23, Columbia Plateau
17, Great Plains 9, Wyoming Basin 8, Northern Rocky Mountains 34, Middle Rocky Mountains
14, and Southern Rocky Mountains 16 counties. Within the Intermountain West, the largest land
area is in the Northern Rocky Mountains, followed by the Colorado Plateaus, with the Southern
Rocky Mountains having the smallest surface area.
30 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
Patterns of Change at the Regional Level
The Intermountain West experienced important changes over the last 30 years
of the twentieth century, exemplified by a number of basic sociodemographic
shifts. The region’s population increased from 1.6 million people in 1970 to almost
2.8 million in 2000. This 68% growth was nearly double the national growth rate
during the same period (38.43%). The largest growth rates occurred during the
1970s and 1990s.
Rural portions of the Intermountain West experienced substantial population
growth over this period indeed, rural areas as a whole grew significantly faster
than their urban counterparts, a fact often lost in popular understandings of rural
America. Table 3.1 summarizes the sociodemographic changes for the five states,
the portions of the states included in the Intermountain West region, and the com-
parison to national rates of change.
The Intermountain West also experienced growth of over 118% in the number
of residents of retirement age, 65 years or older. In many ways this change mirrors
the aging of the U.S. population overall as baby boomers continue to move through
the life course. The U.S. population 65 years and older totaled 8,436,167 persons
in 1970. That number grew to 34,991,753 in 2000, a 315% increase over 30 years.
By comparison, over the same time period, the Intermountain West has clearly
experienced a smaller increase (118%) in the number of people over 65.
Nevertheless, growth in the retirement-age population has outpaced overall growth
within the region (68%) over this time span, a pattern of change that has contributed
Table 3.1 Percentage change in key sociodemographic indictors from 1970 to 2000 for states and
portions of states in the Intermountain West region
Population Pop. > = 65
At least
1 year college
Median family
income
a
Housing
units
Seasonal
housing
Colorado 94.90% 131.80% 21.10% 209.61% 138.80% 478.50%
IMW
Colorado
98.60% 132.60% 18.50% 143.01% 168.10% 757.90%
Idaho 81.60% 125.40% 15.90% 166.75% 115.70% 394.20%
IMW Idaho 59.80% 115.80% 15.00% 133.76% 92.90% 383.20%
Montana 29.90% 82.40% 16.60% 138.63% 67.30% 378.80%
IMW
Montana
39.10% 89.90% 18.50% 107.55% 81.30% 398.10%
Utah 110.80% 157.90% 15.90% 183.27% 143.40% 765.90%
IMW Utah 123.40% 177.90% 12.70% 126.69% 170.70% 1019.90%
Wyoming 48.50% 97.90% 16.50% 109.22% 92.40% 821.00%
IMW
Wyoming
49.40% 103.50% 16.50% 97.77% 96.10% 732.30%
IMW Total 67.80% 118.20% 16.30% 156.25% 112.50% 595.20%
Total U.S. 38.43% 315.00% 88.36% 60.00% 68.75% 105.00%
a
Median family income represents the change from 1980 to 2000
31Patterns of Change at the Regional Level
to a reshaping of Intermountain West economies and communities. As the population
ages and as in-migration of retirees increases, the human face of the Intermountain
West has inevitably shifted as well.
Tied to its rapid population growth, the Intermountain West also experienced
substantial growth in the number of housing units between 1970 and 2000.
Housing units more than doubled during the study period, a level of increase that
significantly surpassed the region’s overall population growth. The difference is
explained in large part by the considerably more rapid growth in seasonal housing
units in the Intermountain West. The number of seasonal housing units increased
from less than 19,000 in 1970 to nearly 130,000 in 2000, nearly seven times the
number of units that existed 30 years earlier. The most rapid growth occurred
during the 1980s. This is indicative of a dramatic increase in the number of part-
time residents across the region. Such growth in seasonal populations has been
shown to have important consequences for the structure and function of rural
areas, contributing to changing local economic bases and a diversification of
populations that can simultaneously enhance and detract from community capa-
city and local quality of life. While seasonal population growth can contribute to
new economic opportunities as demand for housing construction and goods and
services expands, there is also potential for a variety of less positive conse-
quences. For example, growth in the number of seasonal residents may generate
both economic and social strains in settings where property values and taxes
increase or where differences in values and preferences about community condi-
tions, environmental and resource use and management priorities, and cultural
traditions contribute to clashes between new populations and long-term residents
(Clendenning and Field 2005; Stynes et al. 1998; Stedman 2002; Egan and Luloff
2000; Krannich and Petrzelka 2003; Krannich et al. 2006; Krannich and Smith
1998; Smith and Krannich 2000).
The Intermountain West has also seen a dramatic spike in family income levels
as new residents moved into the area. From 1980 to 2000, median household
income more than doubled, well above the 60% increase for the nation as a
whole. Also, there were more than ten times the number of families reporting
incomes above $50,000 in 2000 than in 1970. Overall, the growth in income levels
reflects substantially increased economic vitality that has simultaneously resulted
from and helped to stimulate population growth across the region over the past
several decades.
During this period, the region also experienced an increase in the percentage of
residents with at least 1 year of college education, although the increase was fairly
modest and considerably below what occurred for the nation as a whole over the
past three decades. In 1970, fewer than 15% of residents across the region had this
level of education, compared to 30.13% in 2000. The most dramatic increases in
educational attainment occurred during the 1970s, a period when population growth
and in-migration to the region were unusually high. This is consistent with general
and well-documented tendencies for migration to be more prevalent among persons
with higher levels of educational attainment.
32 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
Physiographic Provinces of the Intermountain West
The Intermountain West encompasses a broad spectrum of geomorphic or
physiographic regions, each characterized by its own rock types, geographic struc-
ture, terrain, and history. Based upon Fenneman’s (1931) divisions, the Intermountain
West encompasses all or portions of eight physiographic provinces: the Basin and
Range, the Colorado Plateaus, the Columbia Plateau, the Great Plains, the Wyoming
Basin, and the Northern, Middle, and Southern Rocky Mountains. These eight
provinces span our study area, representing the diverse environments found within
the Intermountain West. The locations of each of these spatially distinct provinces
are depicted in Fig. 3.1.
The Basin and Range province lies west and south of the Colorado and Colombia
Plateaus, stretching across the western United States south into Mexico. In our
study area, it includes western Utah and a portion of southeastern Idaho. The province
is bounded by the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the west, the Columbia Plateau
to the north/northeast, and the Colorado Plateaus to the south/southeast. The Basin
and Range province is climatically distinguished by its aridity and extremely low
precipitation; overall the province is the driest place in the United States. The province
contains several key amenity features of interest, including portions of the Dixie,
Fishlake, Uinta, Wasatch, Cache, Caribou, and Sawtooth National Forests; Great
Basin National Park; the Great Salt Lake; and several reservoirs and intermittent
lakes (Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008). Approximately 4.2% of the population is
employed in tourism and recreation, four times as many as are employed in extractive
industries.
The Colorado Plateaus province encompasses southern and southeastern Utah
and western Colorado. The boundaries of the province are defined by steep changes
in elevation from the Basin and Range and Wyoming Basin provinces and from the
high mountains of the Middle and Southern Rocky Mountains provinces. The pro-
vince’s magnificent canyons and red rock formations are geologically young features
resulting from dramatic erosion of the province’s hard rocks encouraged by terrain
uplift. The Intermountain West portions of the Colorado Plateaus province include a
number of major recreation destination areas and amenity features of interest,
including Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks; Glen Canyon
National Recreation Area; Canyon De Chelly and El Malpais National Monuments;
and several national forests. This province is home to many of the Intermountain
West’s most distinguishing features and areas of high recreation potential (Fenneman
1931; USGS 2008). More than any other area of the nation, it has experienced
significant growth in tourism and recreation-driven employment to the point that
such jobs were held by about 12% of the employed population by 2000.
The Columbia Plateau is the last province within the Intermontane Plateaus
division. It encompasses about 100,000 square miles of land and is bounded by the
Cascade Mountains on the west and the Rocky Mountains to the north and east,
with the Great Basin to the south. In our study area it encompasses the western and
southwestern portions of Idaho. This province holds the Sawtooth and Payette
33Physiographic Provinces of the Intermountain West
Fig. 3.1 The Intermountain West physiographic provinces
National Forests and the Craters of the Moon and the Hagerman Fossil Beds
National Monuments (Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008). Less than 1% of employment
in this province involves work in tourism-based sectors.
The Great Plains physiographic province stretches from the Canadian border
beginning in Montana and North Dakota south to west-central Texas. In our study
area, the Great Plains province covers the easternmost edge of the Intermountain
34 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
West region – portions of Wyoming and Montana. The most striking feature of the
Great Plains province is its exceptional flatness, with an eastern tilt to the land-
scape. The province has historically been dominated by agriculture and ranching,
and has maintained this traditional base. The Great Plains province includes
portions of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and several smaller state and
local parks; it is home to the fewest public lands and parks in the study area
(Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008). In contrast to the tourism-dependent provinces,
extractive industries remain a significant portion of the economy, with over 15% of
the population employed in agriculture.
The Wyoming Basin province interrupts the higher elevation landforms that
characterize much of the Rocky Mountain system. It is a deep basin of nearly
40,000 square miles located in the center of an otherwise mountainous region. The
Wyoming Basin covers central and southern Wyoming and a portion of northeastern
Colorado. The basin contains the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and
portions of the Bridger, White River, Medicine Bow, Routt, Ashley, and Wasatch
National Forests (Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008). The Wyoming Basin also continues
to maintain significant extractive employment, with more than twice as many
employed adults in the extractive industry as in tourism-based employment.
The Northern Rocky Mountains physiographic province includes the portion of
the Rocky Mountain range located north of Yellowstone Park and extending toward
the Canadian border. This mountainous province covers all of northern and western
Idaho and the majority of Montana within our study area. The province contains
significant natural resources that have been a variable focus of economic activity
and development over time, including an important lead industry, vast expanses of
timber, and substantial tracts of agricultural lands located within the basins and
river valleys. It is home to several areas of extremely high recreation potential,
including Glacier National Park, while nearly two-thirds of its land area falls within
the boundaries of multiple national forests. In 2000, over 10% of the labor force in
the province was employed directly in tourism-based industries (Fenneman 1931;
USGS 2008).
The Middle Rocky Mountains province covers the portion of the Rocky Mountain
range extending from the Yellowstone Plateau to the Wyoming Basin. It covers the
northern and western borders of Wyoming, the northeast corner of Utah, the south-
east corner of Idaho, the south-central border of Montana, and a small portion of
the northwest corner of Colorado. The Yellowstone Plateau is the most prominent
feature of the province. This province includes some of the most popular recreation
areas of the United States. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Yellowstone
and Grand Teton National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and several
national and state forests are located in this portion of the study area. Yellowstone
National Park alone attracts approximately three million visitors annually, making
it one of the nation’s most popular parks. Grand Teton averages over two million
visitors per year and is also a nationally and internationally important recreation
destination. Tourism has become a major component of the economic base of the
province, employing twice the number of persons as was the case in traditional
extractive industries as of 2000 (Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008).
35Patterns of Change Across the Physiographic Provinces
The Southern Rocky Mountains province includes the portion of the Rocky
Mountain range bordered by the Wyoming Basin to the north, the Basin and Range
province to the south, the Great Plains to the east, and the Colorado Plateaus to the
west. It covers the eastern portion of Colorado and the southeastern corner of
Wyoming. The province is home to several of the nation’s largest and most popular
downhill ski resort destinations, including Crested Butte, Aspen, Breckenridge,
Vail, and Winter Park. The province contains Rocky Mountain National Park, the
most heavily visited park within our study area (over three million visitors annually),
and contains large public land areas administered by the Pike, Roosevelt, White
Mountain and several other national forests (Fenneman 1931; USGS 2008). It includes
several important areas for our study that exhibit extremely high recreation potential.
Within this physiographic province, employment in tourism-related businesses is now
more than five times greater than for extractive industries that at one time repre-
sented the dominant sources of employment across the province and the region.
Patterns of Change Across the Physiographic Provinces
The varied experiences of the Intermountain West’s physiographic provinces can
be used to illustrate the uneven patterns of growth and development that charac-
terize the rural paradox. Each province has exhibited its own types and rates of
change during the 30-year time period considered in our analysis. Amenity-rich
areas have generally experienced rapid and dramatic growth, while other areas
without such amenity endowments have often struggled to maintain populations and
sustain traditional economies. The variation across physiographic provinces indicates
the growing importance of resource-driven migration and development as urbanites,
retirees, and seasonal residents increasingly make relocation decisions based upon
quality-of-life factors.
For each of the comparisons presented in the remainder of this chapter we present
data on change patterns in terms of both absolute numbers and percentage change.
The tables present information on percentage change over time, while information
presented in charts focuses on numerical change. It is important to examine both
sets of information, because of the significant variation in baseline conditions
across the provinces. For example, the starting population of the Northern Rocky
Mountains province in 1970 was 456,222. In contrast, the starting population of the
Southern Rocky Mountains province in 1970 was only 78,171. Because of these
dramatically different baselines, analyzing solely percentage changes can
be misleading, as the smaller denominator for the Southern Rocky Mountains leads to
much higher percentage changes relative to those that would occur in the Northern
Rocky Mountains when numerical increases are similar. By including both sets
of change measures, a more clear-cut picture of both relative and absolute change
can be presented.
Population. Findings highlighted in Table 3.2 and Fig. 3.2 reveal that while no
province of the Intermountain West experienced net population decline over the
36 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
30-year period, there has been considerable variation across the provinces in rates
of growth. The lowest growth, less that 8% overall, was in the Great Plains province.
Overall, the Plains areas within the Intermountain West region have maintained
their population over this period, and experienced no significant growth. In contrast,
the Northern, Middle, and Southern Rocky Mountain provinces, the Colorado
Plateaus, and the Basin and Range province each experienced major percentage
increases in population during this 30-year period, at 80%, 98%, 114%, 82%, and
108%, respectively. The Wyoming Basin, Great Plains, and Columbia Plateau
provinces experienced the smallest percentage growth in population.
There is also significant provincial variation with respect to growth in the retire-
ment age population. As indicated in Table 3.3 and Fig. 3.3, the highest growth rate
occurred in the Basin and Range province, where the population age 65 and older
increased consistently over the entire 30-year period considered here. In contrast,
1970
Year
Population Growth by province
Total Population in province
900000
800000
700000
600000
500000
400000
300000
200000
100000
0
1980 1990 2000
Basin and Range
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Great Plains
Wyoming Basin
Northern Rocky Mountains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Southern Rocky Mountains
Fig. 3.2 Change in total population, by province
70–80 80–90 90–00 70–00
Basin and Range 30% 16% 39% 108%
Colorado Plateaus 44% 9% 16% 82%
Columbia Plateau 24% 3% 16% 47%
Great Plains 5% −3% 6% 8%
Wyoming Basin 60% −12% 8% 52%
Northern Rocky 24% 5% 39% 80%
Middle Rocky 34% 12% 32% 98%
Southern Rocky 31% 14% 43% 114%
Total U.S. 38%
Table 3.2
Percent change in
population, by province
37Patterns of Change Across the Physiographic Provinces
the Great Plains province once again registered the lowest rate of change and lowest
absolute change, reflecting the overall lower level of population growth linked to
in-migration in this portion of the study region. Although all provinces fell below
the national growth rate of 315%, there was clearly significant variation across the
provinces with respect to their ability to attract and retain population in the 65 years
and older age bracket.
Table 3.4 and Fig. 3.4 depict changes across the eight physiographic provinces
in the percentage of the population with at least 1 year of college-level education.
The largest increases occurred in the Southern Rocky Mountains province, where
the percentage of the adult population with this level of educational attainment
grew from under 15% in 1970 to nearly 40% by 2000. The lowest increase in this
indicator of educational attainment occurred in the Columbia Plateau province,
Basin and Range
Year
Retiree Population by Province
1970
120000
100000
80000
60000
40000
20000
0
1980 1990 2000
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Great Plains
Wyoming Basin
Northern Rocky Mountains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Southern Rocky Mountains
Total Population in province
Fig. 3.3 Change in total population age 65 and older, by province
70–80 80–90 90–00 70–00
Basin and Range 46% 41% 46% 200%
Colorado Plateaus 40% 31% 26% 132%
Columbia Plateau 41% 16% 17% 92%
Great Plains 24% 13% 21% 70%
Wyoming Basin 27% 29% 29% 111%
Northern Rocky 36% 22% 45% 142%
Middle Rocky 38% 15% 29% 105%
Southern Rocky 27% 28% 42% 132%
Total U.S. 315%
Table 3.3
Percent change
in population age 65
and older, by province
38 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
College Educated Population by Province
1970
45.00%
40.00%
35.00%
30.00%
25.00%
20.00%
15.00%
10.00%
5.00%
0.00%
1980
1990
2000
Total Population in province
Year
Basin and Range
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Great Plains
Wyoming Basin
Northern Rocky Mountains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Southern Rocky Mountains
Fig. 3.4 Change in the percentage of the adult population with at least 1 year of college-level
education, by province
where increases observed during the 1970s tapered off during the 1980s and shifted
into a period of modest decline during the 1990s. There was a statistically significant
difference in this change pattern among the provinces, with the Rocky Mountain
provinces leading the pace in terms of increased educational attainment, followed
again by the Colorado Plateaus.
Like the Intermountain West generally, all eight provinces experienced signifi-
cant growth in median household income during the study period. As the data sum-
marized in Table 3.5 reveal, the largest percentage increase occurred in the Basin
and Range province, while the Wyoming Basin and Great Plains provinces experi-
enced the lowest increases in median incomes. Further, as indicated in Fig. 3.5,
the Basin and Range and Colorado Plateaus provinces had more than 30 times the
70–80 80–90 90–00 70–00
Basin and Range 10% 4% −1% 13%
Colorado Plateaus 11% 5% 0% 16%
Columbia Plateau 11% 3% −1% 12%
Great Plains 9% 6% 1% 16%
Wyoming Basin 11% 6% 0% 17%
Northern Rocky 12% 5% 1% 18%
Middle Rocky 13% 3% 1% 17%
Southern Rocky 21% 3% 2% 26%
Total U.S. 88%
Table 3.4
Percent change
in the percentage of the adult
population with at least 1
year of college-level
education, by province
39Patterns of Change Across the Physiographic Provinces
number of families with incomes over $50,000 in 2000 as was the case in 1970, a
shift substantially beyond what occurred in the region’s other provinces. Again, the
Great Plains province experienced the lowest growth in terms of actual median
income and number of families with incomes over $50,000.
Housing. All provinces in the Intermountain West study region experienced
housing growth during 1970–2000, but there were important differences amongst
them (see Table 3.6 and Fig. 3.6). The number of housing units in the Southern
Rocky Mountains province more than tripled during this period, while the Great
Plains province experienced only a 39% increase and the smallest absolute increase
with most occurring during the 1970–1980 period. Along with the Great Plains, the
Columbia Plateau and Wyoming Basin also lagged well behind the other provinces
with respect to increases in the number of housing units over this period. In absolute
terms, the Northern Rocky Mountains had the highest increase in the number of
housing units, but it had only the fourth highest percentage change because of its
significantly higher baseline in 1970. However, the Northern, Middle, and Southern
Basin and Range
Southern Rocky Mountains
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Wyoming Basin
Great Plains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Northern Rocky Mountains
Number of Families with income >= $50,000 by province
90000
80000
70000
60000
50000
40000
30000
20000
10000
0
Total Population in province
1970 1980 1990 2000
Year
Fig. 3.5 Change in the number of families with income above $50,000, by province
80–90 90–00 80–00
Basin and Range 75.84% 44.16% 153.49%
Colorado Plateaus 60.90% 50.77% 142.59%
Columbia Plateau 64.74% 46.00% 140.51%
Great Plains 55.43% 28.61% 99.90%
Wyoming Basin 28.38% 41.54% 81.71%
Northern Rocky 50.40% 43.54% 115.89%
Middle Rocky 56.62% 55.53% 143.59%
Southern Rocky 56.09% 50.37% 134.72%
Total U.S. 60.00%
Table 3.5
Percent change
in median household income,
by province
40 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
Housing Unit Growth by Province
450000
400000
350000
300000
250000
200000
150000
100000
50000
0
Total Population in province
Basin and Range
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Great Plains
Wyoming Basin
Northern Rocky Mountains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Southern Rocky Mountains
1970 1980 1990 2000
Year
Fig. 3.6 Change in the total number of housing units, by province
Rocky Mountains and the Basin and Range provinces all experienced significant
growth of housing in both percentage and absolute terms.
Finally, as is evident from the data summarized in Table 3.7 and Fig. 3.7, all
provinces exhibited growth in seasonal housing units at a rate substantially greater
than their population growth. At the same time, variation across the individual
provinces was substantial. The outliers with respect to this indicator were the Great
Plains and Northern Rockies provinces, with by far the lowest rates of seasonal
housing growth. The Northern Rocky Mountains province actually had the second
highest absolute growth in seasonal housing, behind only the Southern Rocky
Mountains, but had the highest baseline level in 1970. The Great Plains, in contrast,
had the lowest growth both in terms of percentage and absolute units. This is why
it is important to analyze both percentage and absolute change over time. The Basin
70–80 80–90 90–00 70–00
Basin and Range 46.50% 22.86% 37.95% 148.30%
Colorado Plateaus 61.55% 20.92% 15.49% 125.60%
Columbia Plateau 38.70% 5.42% 16.41% 70.20%
Great Plains 25.19% 2.77% 7.94% 38.87%
Wyoming Basin 82.37% 3.39% 6.51% 100.82%
Northern Rocky 47.24% 12.72% 37.97% 128.98%
Middle Rocky 55.59% 21.57% 29.98% 145.88%
Southern Rocky 97.12% 31.74% 24.26% 222.70%
Total U.S. 68.75%
Table 3.6
Percent change
in the total number of
housing units, by province
41Conclusions
Seasonal Housing Units by Province
40000
35000
30000
25000
20000
15000
10000
5000
0
Total Population in province
Basin and Range
Colorado Plateau
Columbia Plateau
Great Plains
Wyoming Basin
Northern Rocky Mountains
Middle Rocky Mountains
Southern Rocky Mountains
1970 1980 1990 2000
Year
Fig. 3.7 Change in the number of vacant housing units designated for seasonal/recreational use,
by province
and Range province exhibited the largest percentage increase in seasonal housing.
In all areas other than the Southern Rockies, seasonal housing growth occurred
most rapidly during the 1980s, while the rate of increase declined sharply across all
provinces during the 1990s.
Conclusions
Comparing sociodemographic conditions and trends across the distinctively diffe-
rent physiographic provinces of the Intermountain West region enables us to better
understand how spatial variations in geography and natural amenities influence
70–80 80–90 90–00 70–00
Basin and Range 110% 345% 53% 1,332%
Colorado Plateaus 25% 401% 19% 649%
Columbia Plateau 116% 190% 28% 702%
Great Plains 17% 295% 1% 366%
Wyoming Basin 70% 315% 3% 628%
Northern Rocky −15% 321% 22% 337%
Middle Rocky −13% 540% 55% 759%
Southern Rocky 267% 140% 12% 885%
Total U.S. 105.00%
Table 3.7
Percent change
in the number of vacant housing
units designated for seasonal/
recreational use, by province
42 3 A Sociodemographic Portrait of the Intermountain West
patterns of social and demographic change in rural regions. While it is clear the
human face of the Intermountain West is changing, it is also clear that sociodemo-
graphic changes have not occurred equally across provinces. In subsequent chapters
we further explore differences among communities throughout the Intermountain
West and the spatial patterns of variation that characterize this complex and rapidly
changing region.
Portions of the Intermountain West that fall on the “upside” of the rural paradox
have experienced unprecedented growth and change over the past 30 years. These
areas have attracted a different, more educated, and wealthier population base.
Their populations have increased dramatically, and aged even more dramatically as
factors contributing to general population growth seem also to be contributing to
growth in the retirement-age population. The seasonal housing boom is also reshap-
ing economic and social networks of some rural areas as they become increasingly
dependent upon seasonal residents for work and tax support while at the same time
experiencing growth-related strains and social tensions. These changes, along with
variation demonstrated across physiographic provinces in the increasing percent-
ages of college-educated adults, have undoubtedly contributed to significant shifts
in the social dynamics of many regional communities. The Intermountain West, as
a whole, is indeed transitioning to become a New West (see Riebsame et al. 1997;
Travis 2007), with economic, demographic, and social conditions changing rapidly
as it grows and develops.
Examining these key sociodemographic variables by both percentage growth and
changes in total numbers, it is evident the Southern Rocky Mountains, Basin and
Range, and Northern Rocky Mountains provinces have consistently experienced the
highest levels of growth and change over the past three decades. These portions of
the Intermountain West region share two critically important attributes indisput-
able aesthetic qualities and abundant recreation potential. The dominance of public
lands in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the combination of public lands and
private ski resorts located in the Southern Rocky Mountains contribute to their
attractiveness as high-amenity areas. The Basin and Range Province is also domi-
nated by extensive public land areas and scenic vistas offering great potential for
amenity-driven development and growth. The consistently high growth of the
Middle Rocky Mountains, Colorado Plateaus, and Columbia Plateau, all of which
also contain high amenity areas with aesthetic and recreational value, further
demonstrates the significance of the natural environment in driving rural growth and
change. Those provinces with natural resource conditions that dovetail with the
socially constructed ideals of urban-origin in-migrants and seasonal homeowners
seeking beautiful natural environments in which to escape city life and practice their
preferred recreation activities are experiencing the most rapid rates of change.
On the “downside” of the rural paradox, the Great Plains province has consis-
tently exhibited the lowest growth overall, and the least evidence of changes linked
to the emergence of a New West. The lagging of the Great Plains province supports
our conceptualization of the role of natural resources and amenity factors as key
drivers of sociodemographic change. In short, relative to other portions of this
region, the Plains area simply has less to offer in terms of unique, culturally valued,
43Conclusions
high-amenity natural resources and landscapes; as a result, this subregion has not
experienced the rapid growth observed elsewhere in our study area. This is the
paradox of rural America: exceptional growth tends to occur in some locales even
as simple survival becomes a concern in neighboring areas.
The provincial differences in growth and change evident across the Intermountain
West illustrate the ways in which sociodemographic change is tied to the natural
resources of an area. The demographic and social changes affecting parts of rural
America on both sides of the rural paradox are driven and shaped by the specific
natural resources available in spatially-differentiated locales. As Americans
increasingly make location decisions based on quality-of-life indicators linked to
natural amenities, we can expect such patterns of change to persist and, perhaps,
strengthen. The implications of this change for rural communities are vast, as some
struggle to maintain their populations and build new economic bases while others
attempt to control forces of rapid growth and change that can at times threaten
cultural traditions, adversely impact environmental conditions, and overwhelm the
adaptive capacity of local social structures.
... Overviews were made of different social groups such as the 'Sociodemographic portrait' by L. Rochette, D. St-Laurent & C. Plaziac (2004) and 'A social portrait of people of working age in Ireland' (Callan et al., 2007). Specific groups of people have also become objects of interest, including for example 'To be a facilitator of in-service learning: Challenges, roles and professional development' (Fransson, Lakerveld & Rohtma, 2009) or 'A sociodemographic portrait of the intermountain west' (Schewe et al., 2011). Of course, there are some topics, which are always popular, and attract researchers' attention over the years. ...
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