Accueil » 23-1 ( 1968) » Conséquences de l’exode rural sur la composition par sexe des populations des campagnes

Conséquences de l’exode rural sur la composition par sexe des populations des campagnes

Bernard Robert


L'examen de l'évolution du peuplement de la province de Québec révèle l’existence de puissants courants migratoires qui modifient radicalement les structures démographiques dans les régions de départ et les régions d'accueil

En agissant comme un prélèvement sélectif sur les populations des zones de refoulement, les migrations intérieures de population contribuent à créer des déséquilibres graves dans la composition par sexes des populations concernées. En particulier, il apparaît que les effectifs démographiques des campagnes sont caractérisés par la supériorité numérique du groupe masculin et que l’élément féminin prédomine en milieu urbain.

La dissymétrie observable dans la structure des sexes des populations rurale et urbaine, conséquence du processus de déféminisation progressive des campagnes recèle le germe de migrations futures nécessaires au rétablissement de l’équilibre des sexes.


Consequence of Rural Exodus on Sex Structure of Rural Population

An inheritance from the past when development of agricultural resources was the major activity of our economic life, the distribution of men over the territory of the Province of Québec is undergoing deep changes which will radically and permanently alter the traditional map of our population's geographic distribution.

Geographic dispersion of peoples is universally subject to the law of concentration whose effect is readily apparent in the regrouping of populations and the formation of densely populated urban areas.

This new redistribution of agglomerations is the inevitable result of recent shifts in economic factors, particularly changes in labour force location.

Development and growth of urban regions come through depopulation of country areas, and migration of people — a three-dimensional projection of occupational mobility — represents the characteristic aspect of the adjustment now taking place.

Owing to lack of balance attendant on population exchanges between regions, internal migration tends to emphasize vividly the disparity which has been prevalent until now throughout the Province of Québec ; this is so because internal migration is essentially a one-way movement, originating mainly from peripheral regions traditionally characterized by low population density towards heavily populated zones, particularly Greater Montréal ; indeed, the metropolitan area has always been an almost irresistible magnet for voluntary migrants from outlying regions, precisely because the urban structures in the various regions have broken down, more especially because regional capitals have proved unable to check and channel to their advantage the voluntary migration which originates locally.

Quantitatively, the consequences of interregional movements are well known : internal migration constitutes the main factor in spatial redistribution of population and, for this reason, it is the predominant element explaining the diversity which has characterized population development in recent years.

The exodus from regions of origin — sometimes amounting to real demographic hemorrhage — tends to devitalize extensive portions of the territory and, in time, jeopardize harmonious development of the whole province.

Conversely, the migratory inflow in regions of destination — mainly urban — intensifies the natural growth, thereby sustaining urban development, and the influx of new people in cities adds appreciably to population figures.

Qualitatively, migration permanently modifies regional demographic structures and, more particularly, irreversibly drains population from regions of origin. Being selective, migration affects geographic distribution by age and sex.

Age groups are not evenly represented in population shifts mainly because this trend is prevalent among youth. Rural exodus depopulates country areas, thereby raising the residents' mean age ; the drain on the labour force withers the regional demographic structure, eventually leading to drastic reduction in the number of creative people, whose departure seriously limits the region's ability to adapt.

Another consequence of internal migration is that it bears on migrants' sex distribution. Population movements do not affect equal numbers of men and women because young women tend to migrate earlier than young men of comparable age.

Since the urge to leave for the city is more prevalent among young female Quebecers, the time gap in departure leads to serious lack of balance in sex structure at their place of origin. Results are evidenced by the process of decreasing female population in country areas, with a corresponding increase in cities.

Examination of the population's sex distribution reveals two opposing situations : rural circles, characterized by high masculinity proportion, particularly among people engaged in agricultural work, and urban circles, marked by relatively large numbers of women or limited male population.

The effects of such imbalance are all the more significant as they relate to youth, especially those reaching marriageability. Indeed, disparity between both groups, coming as it does from decreasing numbers of nubile women in country areas, considerably lessens marriage opportunities there so that normal homogamy conditions are altered by the fact that young women are prone to leave for the city before young men of comparable age.

On the same date in 1961, for instance, the masculinity proportion of the twenty-to-twenty-four age groups living in fifteen rural countries in the Province of Québec was over 110 ; this means that, in each of these countries, at least one out of ten young men will be unable to find a mate of corresponding age within the limits of the county where he lives ; in Dorchester County, where the sex ratio is 141, more than two men out of five will be forced to leave if they want to marry young women in their age bracket.

Such asymmetry in sex distribution of people living in places of origin is a sign of real and symptomatic sociological degradation in general living conditions of country dwellers ; still, it is inherently limited as everything — including a study of the gradual evolution of the sex structure of migratory cohorts — leads us to believe that young men who cannot find a mate, yet want to marry, will leave for the city where they will have a better chance of meeting young women.

Ultimately, balance is restored in the sex ratio through adjustment in geographic distribution of young men as they eventually leave to join the young women who have already moved to the city.

Although the serious imbalance in youthful population sex structure accompanies this exodus, the resulting high masculinity ratio brings about conditions readily favouring mass migration ; thus, there are built-in restraints leading to automatic restoration of balance between sexes, restraints attending the multiplying effect of internal migration.

Since young women appear to be those who initiate internal migration, particularly towards larger cities where they in turn draw young men, we are faced with the problem of choosing measures required to keep in their place of origin female workers thrown on the labour market as fewer hands are needed in agricultural occupations.

Obviously, the answer lies in creation of non-agricultural occupations well suited to female labour ; otherwise, the exodus towards cities will continue for as long as agricultural jobs for women disappear faster than jobs for men.