Farm Life

Differences between Urban and Rural Lifestyles

life_0101Does it make a difference where you live? Do peoples lives change if they live in the city or the country? Can we generalize about differences between urban and rural lifestyles?

With no pun intended, this is a chicken and egg question – do lifestyles change because of the environment, or do urban and rural residents choose where they want to live based on their lifestyle preferences?

In the United States today, over 97 percent of the land is rural. But only 21 percent of the people live in rural areas.

Turn the equation around – 80 percent of Americans are jammed into urban areas that cover only 3 percent of the land.

We are an urban nation surrounded by sparsely populated rural areas.

“Rural” is defined by population density, that is, how many people are there in a given square mile. Urban areas are defined by the Census Bureau as “census blocks” that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile.

As we’ve seen, the financial income of farmers has generally caught up with their urban counterparts. But there are still major differences in the lifestyles of urban and rural residents. Obviously, the physical landscape is different. In general, the demographics of rural and urban populations are different. There are differences in social and cultural identities. Rural radio stations more often play country music and read the farm market reports. There is a different level and kind of economic environment. And there is a different aesthetic experience between rural and urban lifestyles. Even the prepositions are different — a farmer lives ON a farm; the urban cousin lives IN a city.

Here are some of the differences that researchers have pointed out between urban and rural life –

  • Rural areas are proportionately older than urban areas. In rural counties, almost 19% of the population is over the age of 65, while metro areas are just under 12% elderly.
  • The highest death rates for children and young adults are found in the most rural counties. In 2001, there were almost 80 deaths per 1,000 population in the most rural counties in the U.S. compared to a rate of around 43 per 1,000 in suburban counties for males between one and 24 years of age.
  • Rural residents generally have less education. In adults between the ages of 21 and 64, less than one-third of rural residents (31.4%) had more than a high school education, compared with 53.6% of metro county residents.
  • Residents in rural counties tend to earn less. Over one-quarter (26%) of those under age 65 in rural counties had incomes less than 125% of the poverty line. In comparison, only about 16% of urban residents were poor or near poor.
  • There are fewer minorities in rural counties. The population in metro areas is 31.5% minority but only 9% minority in rural counties.
  • Rural folks often have a hard time finding medical care, despite the fact that they tend to be older. While 20% of Americans live in rural areas, only 9% of the nation’s physicians practice there. While patients in large metro areas can find over 30 doctors per 10,000 people, the most rural counties will find around 5. Rural patients are more likely to be self-employed or to lack health insurance. Nearly one in five of the 41 million uninsured in the U.S. lives in a rural area. In rural counties that are not next to urban ones, a full quarter (24%) of the non-elderly people do not have health insurance, compared with 18% in urban areas.
  • Women in rural areas tend to marry and have children at a younger age. They are likely to have more children than urban women. Yet, they receive less preventive medical care and have higher rates of chronic disease. They are less likely to find family planning resources, infertility treatments or tubal ligation. The rates for adolescent pregnancy are similar in urban and rural settings, but rural birth rates are high because abortion clinics are practically non-existent in most rural areas.
  • On the other hand, divorce rates in rural areas are generally lower, in part because couples don’t move around as much.
  • While incomes tend to be lower in rural counties, the cost of living is also proportionally lower.
  • Researchers have found that people in rural communities share resources, know each other well and are a support system for each other. There is a sense of independence and self reliance in most rural residents, but they know who their friends and neighbors are and when to call on them.

Talk to rural residents and you’ll find a fierce pride in living ON a farm.

film_kobza_RFor instance, Hank (left) from David City has always lived on a farm, and he chooses to stay. “It’s awfully hard to take the farm out of you, if you’ve been out there,” he says. “If you’re brought up in it, you kind of have that feeling and that sense that, ‘Boy, I don’t know what I’d do if I had to go up to the urban area.’”

Troy Otte (right) made the decision to come back to farming after college because of the independence of the workfilm_otte_L. “There’s probably a little bit more of a challenge to agriculture than some jobs,” he says. “There’s quite a bit to it. And it is a challenge to wrap your arms around everything.”

Heather (left) and her husband David chose to farmfilm_derr_R. She grew up on a farm; he did not. For a time, they worked in town to earn enough to get started farming. “Any little thing you could do to bring in a little extra money,” she recalls. “We used to laugh and say, ‘You know, you have to do something to support your farming habit.’”

Mark and Valerie film_kaliff_L(right) are members of one of the largest family farming operations in Nebraska. Mark says he recognizes it’s more dangerous on the farm. “I had a mess in that irrigation pipe,” he recalls of the last time he was injured. “And it hit me right in the side of the head, and I had to have a couple of stitches.” But Valerie says they stay for emotional and family reasons. “The lifestyle is probably one of the best in the world. You get outside. You work with animals and grow crops and you’re kind of your own boss,” she says. “There’s a very family-oriented, very relaxed and loving environment. So, it make it hard to leave the farm.

film_ratzlaff_RSuzanne Ratzlaff (left) was a California girl (although she was born in Iowa) when she married her husband and knew they would be returning to Nebraska to pursue his dream of farming. “My whole high school was larger than the town of Henderson,” she notes. “It was somewhat of culture shock… [But] I really think urban America should care about rural America because, truthfully, rural America is the foundation. It’s the roots. It’s the ‘where you come from.’ It’s the ‘who you are.’“

Chris Ziegler (right) knows his girls are getting an education just by growing up on the farmfilm_ziegler_L. “On the tractor [when we’re] planting or cultivating, we have a couple of pillows and a blanket. And they’ll curl up on the floorboard and take a nap,” he says. “We raised wheat for the first time this year… And my littlest one, she would have just turned four at the time, and Mom’s unloading wheat on the auger wagon from the combine. And she goes, ‘Dad, that’s an awful lot of bread we’re going to have to eat.’ So, she knows at four that wheat’s going to be milled into the bread for the masses.”

Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2009. A partial bibliography of sources is here.

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