Rural areas can be large and isolated (also referred to as "the country," and/or "the countryside) over the course of time. According to William Howarth, author of “The Value of Rural Life in American Culture,” rural communities were dominant in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the majority of the population living on independent homesteads. However, the rise of mechanized farming caused the population to shift, and in 1920 the census reported that urban populations exceeded 50 percent. Today 75 percent of the United States' inhabitants live in cities and suburbs, but they only occupy 2 percent of its land mass. Rural areas occupy the remaining 98 percent.
About 90 percent of the rural population now earn salaried incomes, often in urban areas. The 10 percent who still produce resources are generate 20 percent of the world’s coal, copper, and oil; 10 percent of its wheat, 20 percent of its meat, and 50 percent of its corn. The efficiency these farms is due in large part to the commercialization of the farming industry, and not single family operations.
In the Rural Information Center’s publication, What is Rural?
“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. Metropolitan/urban areas can be defined using several criteria. Once this is done, nonmetropolitan/rural is then defined by exclusion -- any area that is not metropolitan/urban is nonmetropolitan/rural. Determining the criteria used has a great impact on the resulting classification of areas as metro/ nonmetropolitan or urban/rural.”
The US Census Bureau, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Economic Research Service, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have come together to help define rural areas. The Bureau of the Census defines an urbanized area by population density. An urbanized area consists of a central city and surrounding areas whose population is greater than 50,000. In addition, other towns outside of an urbanized area whose population exceeds 2,500 are included in the urban population, leaving all other areas rural. On the contrary, the United States Department of Agriculture classifies specific counties as metropolitan or nonmetropolitan based on codes or rules rather than population calculations. According to the USDA, a metropolitan county is one that contains an urbanized area, or one that has a twenty-five percent commuter rate to an urbanized area regardless of population. Finally, the OMB claims that a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) must contain either a city with at least 50,000 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.
“The National Center for Education Statistics
(NCES) revised its definition of rural schools in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new locale classification system to capitalize on improved geocoding technology and the 2000 Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than proximity of an address to an urbanized area. The new classification system has four major locale categories— city, suburban, town, and rural —each of which is subdivided into three subcategories. Cities and suburbs are subdivided into the categories small, midsize, or large; towns and rural areas are subdivided by their proximity to an urbanized area into the categories fringe, distant, or remote. These twelve categories are based on several key concepts that Census uses to define an area's urbanicity: principal city, urbanized area, and urban cluster. Rural areas are designated by Census as those areas that do not lie inside an urbanized area or urban cluster. NCES has classified all schools into one of these twelve categories based on schools' actual addresses and their corresponding coordinates of latitude and longitude. Not only does this mean that the location of any school can be identified precisely, but also that distance measures can be used to identify town and rural subtypes.”
definitions can be different for establishing underserved areas or health care accessibility in rural areas of the United States. According to the handbook, Definitions of Rural: A Handbook for Health Policy Makers and Researchers, “Residents of metropolitan counties are generally thought to have easy access to the relatively concentrated health services of the county’s central areas. However, some metropolitan counties are so large that they contain small towns and rural, sparsely populated areas that are isolated from these central clusters and their corresponding health services by physical barriers.” To address this type of rural area, “Harold Goldsmith, Dena Puskin, and Dianne Stiles (1992) described a methodology to identify small towns and rural areas within large metropolitan counties (LMCs) that were isolated from central areas by distance or other physical features.” This became the Goldsmith Modification definition of rural. “The Goldsmith Modification has been useful for expanding the eligibility for federal programs that assist rural populations—to include the isolated rural populations of large metropolitan counties.”
In the UK, "rural" is defined
by the government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA
), using population data from the latest census
, such as the United Kingdom Census 2001
. These definitions have various grades, but the upper point is any local government area with less than 26% of its population living in a market town
("market town" being defined as any settlement which has permission to hold a street market
A pupil is defined as rural if they live more than 5km (3 miles) from their nearest state school (2 miles if under 8 years old). This status typically grants them free bus transport to and from the school, but may vary depending on their circumstances (for example, boat instead of bus). Most schools with rural pupils offer funding for after-school activity transport, although this is usually taken from charitable donations rather than government funding.
With the increased urbanisation of the British population, many rural schools no longer have sufficient numbers to make them viable. The solutions are to either close the school, or incorporate the school with another small school nearby. For example, in Gloucestershire it is common for one primary school to have the infant 4-6 year-olds in one village and the junior 7-11 year-olds in a neighbouring village some distance away (typically the bus that collects the juniors from one village, will collect the infants on the return journey).
An NHS patient is defined as rural if they live more than 5km (3 miles) from either a doctor or a dispensing chemist. This is important for defining whether the patient is expected to collect their own medicines. While doctors' surgeries in towns will not have a dispensing chemist, instead expecting patients to use a high-street chemist to purchase their prescription medicines, in rural village surgeries, an NHS dispensary will be built into the same building (and indeed most rural patients will have never seen a paper prescription, since the prescriptions are usually sent via computer network direct to a label printer in the dispensary).
In Australia rural health has been influenced issues around getting medical staff to stay in remote outback areas. The state of Queensland has used a unique model of nursing care in rural and remote "outback " hospitals. A RIPRN is a Registered Nurse that often works where there are limited medical coverage. They offer a greater diversity of skills and knowledge that other rural RNs. In many cases functioning between the traditional level of RN and Medical Doctor.
- 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.