MGI Research

Urban world: What’s next?

| Article

For more than a decade, the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has been studying the unprecedented global wave of urbanization. As the business and economics research arm of McKinsey, we provide leaders in the commercial, public, and social sectors with the facts and insights on which to base management and policy decisions.

For years, demographic trends worked in favor of urban growth—huge cohorts of working-age people fueled cities’ economies. But now there is a radical break in that trend. Two major shifts are happening at the same time: population growth is slowing worldwide, and rural-to-urban migration is waning as a force for urban expansion, particularly in developed economies. The days of easy growth are over.

App screenshot

Urban World: A new iPad app - image3
Urban World illustrates the progress and potential of over 3,000 cities worldwide.
Urban World: A new iPad app - image3

MGI’s newly updated app, Urban World, now available for iPad, iPhone, and Android, can help you to develop your understanding of how the urban world is changing by exploring data on GDP, population, and demographics from 3,000 cities.

Under pressure from dramatic demographic shifts—already evident in developed regions but increasingly so in the emerging world—the urban landscape is going to a great deal more fragmented. The impact of the demographic shift promises to be uneven. Cities’ growth prospects will reflect very different demographic footprints and dynamics shaped by their local birth and death rates, net domestic migration, and net international migration. There will be pockets of robust expansion but also areas of stagnant or declining populations.

Even within countries, there are large variations in cities’ demographic profiles. The average age varies by about a decade in the cities in South Korea and Spain with the oldest and youngest populations, and by more than 20 years in the United States. Take two US examples. The birthrate at the end of 2015 was 23.6 births per 1,000 in Jacksonville, North Carolina, but the city’s annual death rate was only 5.3 per 1,000 inhabitants. In contrast, in Punta Gorda, Florida—home to many retirees—there were only 5.9 births per 1,000 residents a year but 14.4 deaths.

This level of detail is vital for understanding an increasingly differentiated urban landscape. The app also places urbanization in a historical context, using a view from space of the global nighttime distribution of light as a proxy for the global distribution of economic activity. Users can visualize the world’s shifting center of economic gravity during the past two millennia and through 2025. The app serves a purpose similar to a 16th-century map—a rough but helpful tool to help navigate the evolving urban world.

Corporate strategists, urban planners, economic historians, and geography buffs alike can use the app’s interactive map to compare individual cities on their GDP, population, and income levels in 2010 and one scenario for 2025.

Install the Urban World App for iPhone, iPad, or Android.