Why cities tend to be liberal and suburbs and rural areas conservative

We usually tend to associate the beginning of civilizations with agriculture, often forgetting that it took about 7.000 years after the neolithic revolution for civilizations to take off. Of course, agriculture provided the necessary nourishment, but it was really urbanization that drove civilization. So, the question is what drove urbanization? Usually, this question is answered with push and pull factors:

  • push due to rural overpopulation
  • pull due to better opportunities

The problem with this explanation is that there needs to be some kind of bootstrapping. In hunter-gatherer and herder societies, there is a natural tendency to migrate when resources become rare, the same option would still apply to most farmer societies. Indeed this is what happened during the first few thousand years of farming: it rapidly spread across Europe and Asia from the Fertile Crescent.

So, what made people create cities in the first place? There are some really interesting differences between rural and urban areas. An obvious one is the different type of productivity: agricultural vs industrial productivity. Another interesting difference is that of ideology: rural areas tend to be conservative whereas urban areas tend to be more liberal.

This is not only the case in the US but pretty much a consistent pattern all over the world. And the divide is growing as liberally minded people are attracted to liberal cities. But how did the divide start? I think it started at the very dawn of civilizations when three types of “tribes” were present in agricultural societies after a long initial period of segregation (here with their hypothesized MBTI personality types):

We can expect that farmer types (conservative, conformist, hard-working) preferred to work their own land, whereas hunter-gatherer types and pastoralist types (more individualistic) preferred to make their living in urban centres choosing industrial productivity over agricultural productivity. This trend has been going on since the dawn of civilization. There has been the opposite trend of de-urbanization and suburbanization since the 1950s, however. If my hypothesis is right, suburbanization should be chiefly driven by farmer types. I would argue that a home and property-owning instinct is inherent in farmer types, while hunter-gatherer and pastoralist types would be more easily content with renting an apartment.

Let’s have a look at some of the different traits of hunter-gatherer and farmer types that should explain why suburbs have developed the way they are:

London centre vs suburbs: inverse openness/conscientiousness patters. From Markus Jokela et al.
The amazing uniformity of suburbs

This is only one of many examples of how developments can be explained by the hunter-gatherer vs farmer hypothesis. For more check out my book:


Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on February 20, 2021.