Explained: The Many Definitions of Rural

Wisconsin provides a case study in the varied methods for defining rural, and why that matters. "Rural is not simple to define, perhaps because the real question is rural for what purpose?"

1 minute read

June 3, 2017, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Rural Schoolhouse

Gerald A. DeBoer / Shutterstock

"It's a matter of conventional wisdom in Wisconsin and across the U.S. that rural places are socially and culturally different from urban and suburban areas," writes Malia Jones. "But it's helpful to examine how rurality is officially defined to explore its many dimensions."

Jones notes that demographers and social geographers use several methods to identify areas as rural, and demographers define rural areas as anything that "not urban." With Wisconsin offering examples to illustrate her points, Jones walks through the definitions used by the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state of Wisconsin also employs metrics that complicate the task of defining what is and what is not rural.

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