What is Rural?

While there is no one agreed-upon definition for what constitutes "rural," most methods of classifying territory along an urban-rural continuum make reference to population size and density, level of urbanization, and/or the relationship to urbanized areas in terms of economic activity, commuting patterns, and so on.  Adequately representing the economic, social and demographic diversity of rural areas in the United States remains a substantial challenge in developing criteria for determining what areas are rural.  However, the various definitions used have real consequences for people and public policy.

The following links offer varied definitions and understandings as to what, exactly, rural is. These definitions range from purely quantifiable measures, to subjective discussions of self perception and provide only a sampling of answers to the question, "What is Rural?"


Defining Rural: Definitions of Rural Areas in the U.S.
Rural Policy Research Institute
The Rural Policy Research Institute provides a very useful overview of many different definitions of "rural" which have been used in research and policy making. The methodology, advantages, and limitations of each definition are reviewed.

Defining "Rural" America
Center for the Study of Rural America (2004)
This brief, produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City discusses the Office of Management and Budget's "micropolitan" designation, developed after the 2000 census, and its use in helping to sharpen the definitions of rural.

Rural: Where is it Anyway?
Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (2004)
The Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health provides an excellent summary of how rural is defined, with a particular emphasis on what this means for Pennsylvanian people and communities.

What is Rural?
United States Department of Agriculture (2005)
This short article provided by the National Agricultural Library's Rural Information Center provides a wealth of research and documentation attempting to define exactly what "rural" is. While the primary focus is on Federal definitions of rural, links are provided to other points of view as well.

Census 2000: the Urban and Rural Classifications
U. S. Census Bureau
In Census 2000 the Census Bureau classifies as "urban" all territory, population and housing units located within an urbanized area (UA) or an urban cluster (UC). These are delineated as core census block groups that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile The Census Bureau's classification of "rural" consists of all territory, population and housing units located outside of UAs and UCs. Suburban areas and small towns are not considered to be rural.

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