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Rural vs. Urban

What Is It?

The terms urban and rural refer to geographical areas of a country and are generally used to show where the population resides. Urban refers to the region around a city, while rural refers to undeveloped land or countryside.

The percentage of a population living in rural vs. urban areas refers to the ratio of a country's residents who live in undeveloped areas such as farms compared to developed areas such as cities.

How Is It Calculated?

A rural designation accounts for the population, along with housing and territory, that is not located near a city or other urban cluster. An urban area refers to a population of 50,000 people or more, while an urban cluster has a minimum number of 2,500 and less than 50,000 people.

What Does It Mean?

Dividing a country’s population into geographical areas provides insight into standards of living, access to education, and utilities and services, among others. These insights can affect public policy and budgeting for infrastructure, education, and health systems, among other things. Changes in the ratio of urban to rural residents of a country can impact the economy by altering the demographics of consumer markets, affecting the demand for housing, and more. 

Global population trends favor urbanization. According to demographic studies, there are five factors that affect rural vs. urban population shifts. They are:

  1. Economic Factors
    Lack of employment and lower levels of income in rural areas drive people to urban centers where there are more job opportunities and higher levels of income.
  2. Demographic Factors
    Rural areas are typically more conservative, have a lower educational attainment level, and a higher fertility rate than urban areas.
  3. Social and Cultural Factors
    Rural areas tend to favor traditional values where the community is seen to be superior to the individual. Historically, young people who wish to break free of traditional values do so by migrating to urban areas where individual values offer the promise of greater personal freedom.
  4. Geographical and Physical Factors
    Living in a rural area can be challenging as physical distances often makes it difficult to access healthcare, job opportunities, services, and even food. Droughts, floods, and tropical storms often take a greater toll on rural residents as relief efforts are hindered by large geographic areas and a dispersed population.
  5. Political and Institutional Factors
    A number of countries actively limit migration to urban areas through laws and restrictions that make it difficult to impossible for migrants to urban areas to a) register for work, b) enroll children in schools, and c) receive social benefits such as healthcare.
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