City Living Has People Thinking About Their Futures


If you’re looking to get your priorities straight, you might want to move to a bigger city. According to a recent study, living in a populous city has people thinking more about their futures.

In the two-part study, researchers from the University of Michigan began by analyzing population data from densely populated areas to sparsely populated areas. In combination with information on relationships and parenting, the researchers found that individuals who live in densely populated areas are more future-oriented in their thinking.

Credit: Giacomo Carena/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

“Applying a fresh perspective to an old topic, we draw upon life history theory to examine the effects of population density,” the authors wrote. “Across nations and across the U.S. states, we find that dense populations exhibit behaviors corresponding to a slower life history strategy, including greater future-orientation, greater investment in education, more long-term mating orientation, later marriage age, lower fertility and greater parental investment.”

In an attempt to confirm their findings, the researchers had the study participants take part in various experiments. The participants read a story they were told came from The New York Times. The story was about the rise of population density in the U.S.

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While playing an economic game, the researchers said the participants chose financial gains in the future over more timely financial gains. Another experiment involved the participants listening to the sounds of a large human crowd versus white noise.

The researchers said the population density reminders correlated with the stage of life of the participants. By manipulating the participants’ perception of increasing population density, answers were changed for different age groups, the researchers said.

“Experimentally manipulating perceptions of high density seemed to lead to life-stage-specific slower strategies, with college students preferring to invest in fewer rather than more relationship partners, and an older [participants] preferring to invest in fewer rather than more children,” the authors wrote.

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The researchers said more research is needed and suggested that hormones and brain development are affected by population density. They said an individual’s motivations, cultural norms and relationships could also be affected.

“Much remains to be examined,” the authors wrote. “We hope this initial foray will generate renewed interest in a topic that has been all but forgotten and encourage the field of research on density to become a little more crowded.”