Fall 2020 Baldy Center Magazine


Demographics and Developing Social Policy


Keywords: Culture and Society, Economic and Community Development, Immigration Studies, Law and Policy Inequality, Law and Society, Legal Research, Legislation, Public Policy, Urban Studies

Title: Demographics and Developing Social Policy
Article by: Rebecca Dingle

The Baldy Center supports UB faculty research and conferences through a competitive grant program. Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen’s work focusing on economic and urban geography and policy has been supported by a series of Baldy Center awards. Here we focus on her work on demographics and social policy.

Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen.

Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen

The unique wants and needs of the individuals who make up neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, and even nations, can be obscured or forgotten when social policies are developed. Dr. Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, Professor in University at Buffalo’s Department of Geography, takes a human approach to matters of law and social policy. Her research in economic and urban geography takes regional demographics into consideration while forming foundational data to inform policy makers. Dr. Bagchi-Sen targets gaps in existing research and literature to offer local-scale nuance that helps prevent the shoehorning that takes place when basic and broad solutions are applied to situations that call for more humanity and consideration.

Dr. Bagchi-Sen recently published research supported in part by the Baldy Center in “An analysis of employment patterns of domestic migrants and immigrants in a Rustbelt city: A study of Buffalo‐Niagara Falls” (1) with co-authors Torsten Schunder and Xiaonan Tai. Bagchi-Sen and her colleagues explore and categorize the employment patterns of residents, immigrants, and domestic migrants in the Rustbelt city of Buffalo-Niagara Falls. Their human-centered approach demonstrates the previously unrecognized predominance of different ethnic groups in regional industries, such as an ethnic niche including African American and Hispanic workers in service, sales, production, and transport related occupations, as well as one including Asian workers in professional and management-related occupations. White resident workers were not noted as forming any niches in the examined area. Bagchi-Sen et al also found patterns in education level, gender, English proficiency, and marital status of those in each industry. For example, they found that “transforming” industries – defined here as those with a high concentration of employment but a lower growth rate than that of the national economy – “employ educated recent arrivals, which may provide the foundation for future skill‐based development.” The authors concluded that “migration flows are an important component of the population offsetting loss, filling housing vacancies, infusing skills, creating businesses, broadening the tax base, and potentially fostering economic development.” Their results offer policy-makers insight and understanding about who works in each area of industry that they may use to develop social policies that support these cities and the people in them.

The Baldy Center awarded Dr. Bagchi-Sen a 2020-2021 research grant to continue her interdisciplinary human-focused research, focusing now on the demographics of “shrinking places.” Bagchi-Sen plans to address a gap in research about the shrinkage of U.S. cities, and to suggest a more inclusive approach to “rightsizing” – fitting the built environment/land use to existing population base. She says that “rightsizing policies, such as demolitions, often do not directly consider local needs beyond broader issues (e.g., fiscal).” Her research will examine diversity in shrinking cities by coding variable physical, demographic, social, economic, and political characteristics, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between cities.

The individual is often lost among technological advances, growing populations, and changing landscapes in our fast-paced world. Understandings and insights like those provided by Dr. Bagchi-Sen are what allow broad policy systems to accommodate the wants and needs of those impacted. Her research and insights are critical as they bring human beings to the forefront and provide a means for policy makers to keep in mind the people that make up these communities in mind as they develop solutions.

(1) Bagchi‐Sen, S, Schunder, T, Tai, X. An analysis of employment patterns of domestic migrants and immigrants in a Rustbelt city: A study of Buffalo‐Niagara Falls. Growth and Change. 2020; 51: 123– 143.


Rebecca Dingle is a fourth year student in UB’s College of Arts & Sciences, Honors College. She double majors in Linguistics and Asian Studies and plans graduate work after the completion of her B.A. in 2021. Ms. Dingle is particularly interested in barriers to global communication posed by culturally mediated language translation.

Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen is Professor in UB’s Department of Geography, where she researches demographic change in US urban areas, migration and labor outcomes, shrinking cities, innovation and entrepreneurship. Learn more.