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You are here: Home / Publications / What is Rural?
Publications
  
What Is Rural?
Rural Scene

Compiled by:

Louise Reynnells
Patricia LaCaille John
Rural Information Center
National Agricultural Library
U.S. Department of Agriculture

Modified: July 2013

Contents

 

National Agricultural Library Cataloging Record

John, Patricia La Caille.
Rural Information Center (U.S.)
What is Rural?
Beltsville, MD : USDA, National Agricultural Library, Rural Information Center, [2008]
Rev.
Rural development.
Internet resource.
Internet-resource: http://www.nal.usda.gov/ric/ricpubs/what_is_rural.shtml

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Introduction

Many people have definitions for the term rural, but seldom are these rural definitions in agreement. For some, rural is a subjective state of mind. For others, rural is an objective quantitative measure. The June 2008 Amber Waves publication from the USDA, Economic Research Service, provides new insight to rural definitions with an article,"Defining the ?Rural? in Rural America: The use of different definitions of rural by Federal agencies reflects the multidimensional qualities of rural America." http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/June08/Features/RuralAmerica.htm

The General Accounting Office, in its publication Rural Development: Profile of Rural Areas, http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat6/149199.pdf, pp. 26-31, discusses the three most common Federal definitions of rural: that of the Department of Commerce's Bureau of the Census based on the 1990 census criteria (now superceded by the 2000 census criteria), http://www.census.gov/geo/www/ua/ua_2k.html, that of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, and that of the Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

"Metro/urban areas can be defined using several criteria. Once this is done, nonmetro/rural is then defined by exclusion -- any area that is not metro/urban is nonmetro/rural. Determining the criteria used has a great impact on the resulting classification of areas as metro/ nonmetro or urban/rural. The Census Bureau classifies 61.7 million (25 percent) of the total population as rural, OMB classifies 55.9 million (23 percent) of the total population as nonmetro. According to the Census definition, 97.5 percent of the total U.S. land area is rural; according to the OMB definition, 84 percent of the land area is nonmetropolitan. USDA/ERS estimates that, in 1990, 43 percent of the rural population lived in metropolitan counties.

A further problem with dichotomous definitions is that they permit classification into only two categories -- metro/urban or nonmetro/rural. This cannot describe the metro/nonmetro continuum or the range of variation that exists in nonmetro areas. ERS attempts to overcome this limitation by further subdividing metro/nommetro categories. ... However, as with any definition, any broad generalizations about nonmetro conditions will not necessarily be representative for a subset of those areas.

For the purpose of illustration, the primary three definitions are presented here:

  1. The Bureau of the Census defines an urbanized area, http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/urdef.txt, (UA) by population density. According to this definition, each UA includes a central city and the surrounding densely settled territory that together have a population of 50,000 or more and a population density generally exceeding 1,000 people per square mile. A "county" is a political distinction and is not incorporated in the Bureau of the Census' classification scheme, so one UA may cover parts of several counties.

    Under this definition, all persons living in UA's and in places (cities, towns, villages, etc.) with a population of 2,500 or more outside of UA's are considered the urban population. All others are considered rural.

  2. OMB, http://www.census.gov/population/www/estimates/metrodef.html, designates areas as metro on the basis of standards released in January 1980. According to this definition, each metropolitan statistical area (MSA) must include at least:

    • one city with 50,000 or more inhabitants or

    • an urbanized area (defined by the Bureau of the Census) with at least 50,000 inhabitants and a total MSA population of at least 100,000 (75,000 in New England).

    These standards provide that each MSA must include the county in which the central city is located (the central county) and additional contiguous counties (fringe counties), if they are economically and socially integrated with the central county. Any county not included in an MSA is considered nonmetro.

    OMB periodically reclassifies counties on the basis of Census data and population estimates.

  3. ERS [USDA] uses rural-urban continuum codes, http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/RuralUrbCon/, to distinguish metro counties by size and nonmetro counties by their degree of urbanization or proximity to metro areas. USDA defines codes zero to 3 as metro, and 4 to 9 as nonmetro."1 [e.g., 4 = Urban population of 20,000 or more, adjacent to a metro area, and 9 = Completely rural or urban population of fewer than 2,500, not adjacent to a metro area]"

In March 2002, the Bureau of the Census, http://www.census.gov/geo/www/ua/ua_2k.html, released new criteria for defining urban and rural areas based on the results of Census 2000. These criteria replace and supercede the 1990 census definitions for defining urban and rural areas. The Economic Research Service summarized the definition changes in New Definitions 2003, http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/NewDefinitions/.

__________________
1Rural Development : Profile of Rural Areas. United States General Accounting Office. Fact Sheet for Congressional Requestors. GAO/RECD-93-40FS. Washington, DC: The Office, 1993: pp. 26-29.

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Define Rural

  1. "Census Tracts More Precisely Define Rural Populations and Areas." John B. Cromartie, Linda L. Swanson. Rural Development Perspectives, 11, No. 3 (1996): 31-39. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/rdp/rdp696/rdp696e.pdf

  2. Commuting Zones and Labor Market Areas. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/lmacz/

  3. County Typology Codes. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/Typology/

  4. Definitions of "Rural". Valerie du Plessis, Roland Beshiri, Ray D. Bollman, Heather Clemenson. Agriculture and Rural Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 61. Ottawa, Ontario: Statistics Canada, Agriculture Division, 2002. 37 p. http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/21-601-MIE/2002061/21-601-MIE2002061.pdf

  5. Geographic Areas Reference Manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1994. 400 p. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/garm.html.

  6. Measuring Rurality. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/

  7. The Revised ERS County Typology: An Overview. Peggy J. Cook, Karen L. Mizer. Rural Development Research Report, no. 89. Washington, DC: Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1994. 48 p. http://jan.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/erssor/general/rdrr/rdrr89.pdf

  8. "Rural" -- A Concept Beyond Definition? Betty Rose D. Rios. ERIC Digest, ED 296820. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1988. 6 p. http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-929/concept.htm

  9. Rural Development : Profile of Rural Areas. GAO/RECD-93-40FS. Washington, DC: U.S. General Accounting Office. 1993. 31 p. http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat6/149199.pdf

  10. Rural Life Today: Defining ?Rural?. Mark A. Small. Clemson, SC: Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life. 2000. 3 p. http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/ncrj/Assets/Adobe_Acrobat_Files/
    defining_rural_fact_sheet.pdf

  11. Rural-Urban Commuting Area Codes. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Rurality/RuralUrbanCommutingAreas/

  12. Rural-Urban Continuum Codes. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/RuralUrbCon/

  13. Rural/Urban Definitions: Alternatives and Numbers by State. Wanqing Zhang, Angella Bowman, Keith J. Mueller. Project Report 98-1. Omaha, NE: Nebraska Center for Rural Health Research, University of Nebraska Medical Center, 1998. 13 p. http://www.unmc.edu/rural/documents/pr9801.pdf

  14. Selected Historical Decennial Census Urban and Rural Definitions and Data. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/ur-def.html

  15. "Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas." Federal Register, 65, No. 249 (2000): 82228-82238. http://www.census.gov/population/www/metroareas/files/00-32997.pdf

  16. Urban Influence Codes, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/UrbanInf/

  17. What is a Micropolitan Area? Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Rurality/MicropolitanAreas/

  18. What is Rural? and New Definitions in 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/WhatisRural/
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/rurality/NewDefinitions/

  19. What's Rural. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/Definitions.asp

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Define Rural for Health Programs

  1. An Alternative Approach to Defining Rural for the Purpose of Providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Gary Wingrove, Thomas Judge. Duluth, MN: Rural Health Resource Center, 2004. 22 p. http://www.ruralcenter.org/tasc/documents/EMS_Definition_Of_Rural_Complete.pdf

  2. Defining "Rural" Areas: Impact on Health Care Policy and Research. Maria Hewitt. Washington, DC: Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States, 1989. 60 p. http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/disk1/1989/8912_n.html

  3. Definitions of Rural: A Handbook for Health Policy Makers and Researchers. Thomas C. Ricketts, Karen D. Johnson-Webb, Patricia Taylor. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina, 1998. 13 p. http://www.shepscenter.unc.edu/research_programs/rural_program/ruralit.pdf

  4. Geographic Eligibility for Rural Health Grant Programs. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resource and Services Administration, Office of Rural Health Policy, 1993. 11 p. http://ruralhealth.hrsa.gov/funding/eligibilitytestv2.asp

  5. Guidelines for Using Rural-Urban Classification Systems for Public Health Assessment. Seattle: Washington State Department of Health, 2005. 13 p. http://www.doh.wa.gov/Data/Guidelines/RuralUrban.htm

  6. Improving the Operational Definition of "Rural Areas" for Federal Programs. Harold F. Goldsmith, Dena S. Puskin, Dianne J. Stiles. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resource and Services Administration, Office of Rural Health Policy, 1993. 11 p. http://www.ruralhealth.hrsa.gov/pub/Goldsmith.htm

  7. Low Density Counties with Different Types of Sociodemographic, Economic and Health/Mental Health Characteristics, Letter to the Field No. 18. Harold F. Goldsmith, and others. Boulder, CO: Frontier Mental Health Services Resource Network, 2000? 18 p. http://www.wiche.edu/MentalHealth/Frontier/letter18.html

  8. Rural Populations and Health Care Providers: A Map Book. Randy K. Randolph, Katherine Gaul, Rebecca T. Slifkin. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina, 2002. 1 v. (various pagings) http://www.shepscenter.unc.edu/research_programs/rural_program/mapbook2003/

  9. Shortage Designation. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/shortage/

  10. Trends in Special Medicare Payments and Service Utilization for Rural Areas in the 1990s. Donna O. Farley, and others. MR-1595-CMS. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2002. 209 p. http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1595/

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Define Frontier

  1. Defining and Describing Frontier Areas in the United States: An Update, Letter to the Field No. 22. Pearlanne T. Zelarney, James A. Ciarlo. Boulder, CO: Frontier Mental Health Services Resource Network, 2000? 19 p. http://www.wiche.edu/MentalHealth/Frontier/letter22.html

  2. Defining Frontier: THE CONSENSUS DEFINITION - 2007 UPDATE, Ojo Sarco, NM: Frontier Education Center. http://www.frontierus.org/documents/consensus.htm

  3. Focusing on "Frontier": Isolated Rural America, Letter to the Field, No. 2. James A. Cialo, and others. Revised. Boulder, CO: Frontier Mental Health Services Resource Network, 1996. 14 p. http://www.wiche.edu/MentalHealth/Frontier/letter2.html

  4. Frontier Counties, 2000 (Map), Ojo Sarco, NM: Frontier Education Center. http://www.frontierus.org/2000update.htm

  5. List of Frontier Counties from 2000 U.S. Census . Ojo Sarco, NM: Frontier Education Center. http://www.frontierus.org/2000census.htm

  6. List of Frontier Counties from 1990 U.S. Census . Ojo Sarco, NM: Frontier Education Center. http://www.frontierus.org/index.htm?p=2&pid=6003&spid=6020

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Rural Data and Maps

  1. Create Your Own Maps. Columbia, MO: Community Information Resources Center: http://circ.rupri.org/

  2. Defining "Rural": Cartographic Archive. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, University of North Carolina. http://www.shepscenter.unc.edu/research_programs/rural_program/maps/maps.html

  3. Enhance Quality of Life for Rural Americans: Rural Gallery. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/emphases/rural/gallery/

  4. Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Counties (Map). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Emphases/Rural/Gallery/nonmetrocounties.htm

  5. Population Reference Bureau. Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau. http://www.prb.org

  6. Rural Counties By State. Washington, DC: Universal Service Administrative Company. http://www.rhc.universalservice.org/eligibility/ruralareas.asp

  7. Rural County Data by State. Washington, DC: National Association of Counties. http://www.naco.org/RuralTemplate.cfm?Section=RAC_County_Data&
    Template=/cffiles/rac/state_srch.cfm

  8. Rural Indicators Map Machine. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/RuralMapMachine/

  9. Rural Life Today. Robin Kimbrough-Melton. Clemson, SC: Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, 2001. 8 p. http://virtual.clemson.edu/groups/ncrj/Assets/Adobe_Acrobat_Files/
    rural_life_today_fact_sheet.pdf

  10. Rural-Urban Continuum Codes, 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/RuralUrbanContinuumCodes/2003/

  11. Rural Population as a Percent of State Total By State, 2000. Washington, DC: Northeast Midwest Institute, 2002. 1 p. http://www.nemw.org/poprural.htm

  12. Rural-Urban Continuum Codes, 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/RuralUrbanContinuumCodes/2003/

  13. Urban and Rural Population: 1900 to 1990. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 1995. 1 p. http://www.census.gov/population/censusdata/urpop0090.txt

  14. Urban Influence Codes, 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/UrbanInfluenceCodes/2003/

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Rural Values

  1. Perceptions of Rural America. Battle Creek, MI: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2002. 28 p. http://www.wkkf.org/pubs/FoodRur/pub2973.pdf

  2. Perceptions of Rural America: Congressional Perspectives. Battle Creek, MI: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 2002. 17 p. http://www.wkkf.org/pubs/FoodRur/pub3699.pdf

  3. "Rural Values." Rural Development Perspectives. 12, No. 1 (1997): 21 p. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/rdp/rdp1096/

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Rural Character

  1. Defining Rural Character and Planning for Rural Lands: "A Rural Element Guide." Olympia: Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development, 1994. 70 p. http://www.mrsc.org/Subjects/Planning/rural/ruralguid.pdf

  2. Keeping the Rural Vision: Protecting Rural Character and Planning for Rural Development. Heather Ballash. Olympia: Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 1999. 38 p. http://www.mrsc.org/subjects/planning/rural/ctedrural.aspx

  3. "Maintaining Rural Character in Northwest Fulton County, Georgia." Rural Residential Steering Committee and Fulton County. Atlanta: Fulton County Board of Commissioners, 2001. 52 p. http://www.fultonecd.org/planning/nw-rural.pdf

  4. Preserving Rural Character: The Agriculture Connection. Revised. Concord: New Hampshire Office of State Planning, 2000. 16 p. http://www.nh.gov/oep/resourcelibrary/documents/TheAgricultureConnection.pdf

  5. Rural Character. Rachael Moeller. Providence, RI: Brown University Center for Environmental Studies, 2000. http://envstudies.brown.edu/oldsite/Web/special%20reports/Classes/
    ES201/2000/openspace/rural_character/rural_character.htm

  6. A Survey of Attitudes and Perspectives on Rural Character and Economic Development in Lewis County. Chehalis, WA: Lewis County Watch, 2004. 10 p. http://www.crcwater.org/issues15/lcwreport.pdf

  7. What is Rural Character? Partnerships for Change (Michigan). http://www.partnershipsforchange.cc/planningeduc0059.asp

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Rural America

  1. Enhanced Quality of Life for Rural Americans: Research Emphasis. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/emphases/rural/

  2. Rural America At a Glance. Karen Hamrick, editor. Rural Development Research Report No. (RDRR97-1).Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2003. 6 p. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/rdrr97-1/

  3. Rural America: Key Topic. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Topics/View.asp?T=104000

  4. "Rural America: Opportunities and Challenges." Leslie A. Whitener, David A. McGranahan. Amber Waves. (February 2003): 14-21. http://www.ers.usda.gov/Amberwaves/Feb03/features/ruralamerica.htm

  5. Understanding Rural America. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 710. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 1995. 25 p. http://www.nal.usda.gov/ric/ricpubs/understd.htm

  6. Understanding Rural America. Don Macke. Monograph 11. Lincoln, NE: Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, 2003. 9 p. http://www.ruraleship.org/content/content/pdf/UnderstandingRA.pdf

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