Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2003


Published in Great Plains Research 13 (Spring 2003): 43-61. Copyright © 2003 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Used by permission.


The popular vision of the Great Plains as a region of ongoing population decline is only partly appropriate. In a fundamental transformation of the population geography previously set in the late 19th century, there is an emerging divide between growing metropolitan centers concentrated along the region's periphery and a vast interior struggling to hold its traditional rural population. The size and geographical distribution of population within the Great Plains region is examined over time with the aid of cartographic and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) techniques. Intercensal net migration rates estimated using the vital statistics-based residual method are mapped by county for several decades since 1890 and are tabulated for metropolitan- nonmetropolitan setting and other relevant geographical characteristics. Several subregions within the Great Plains are identified as becoming more culturally diverse due to net immigration or faster natural increase among Hispanic, black, Native American, or Asian culture groups.