In modern times, it often occurs in a region following the industrialization of agriculture—when fewer people are needed to bring the same amount of agricultural output to market—and related agricultural services and industries are consolidated. Rural flight is exacerbated when the population decline leads to the loss of rural services (such as business enterprises and schools), which leads to greater loss of population as people leave to seek those features.
This phenomenon was first articulated through Ernst Georg Ravenstein's Laws of migration in the 1880s, upon which modern theories are based.
- 1 Historical trends
- 2 Determinants of Rural Flight
- 3 In the United States and Canada
- 4 Germany
- 5 Russia and Ukraine
- 6 Contemporary developing countries
- 7 Consequences of Rural Flight
- 8 References
- 9 Notes
- 10 See also
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, rural flight occurred in mostly localized regions. Pre-industrial societies did not experience large rural-urban migration flows primarily due to the inability of cities to support large populations. Lack of large employment industries, high urban mortality, and low food supplies all served as checks keeping pre-industrial cities much smaller than their modern counterparts. Ancient Athens and Rome, scholars estimate, had peak populations of 80,000 and 500,000 paling in comparison with their current populations. 
The onset of the Industrial Revolution in Europe in the late 19th century removed many of the checks that had previously constrained urban populations. As food supplies increased and stabilized and industrialized centers moved into place, cities began to support larger populations, sparking the beginning of rural flight on a massive scale.  The United Kingdom went from having 20% of the population living in urban areas in 1800 to more than 70% by 1925.  While the late 19th century and early 20th century saw much of rural flight focused in Western Europe and the United States, as industrialization spread throughout the world during the 20th century, rural flight and urbanization followed quickly behind. Today, rural flight is an especially distinctive phenomenon in some of the newer urbanized areas including China and more recently sub-Saharan Africa.  
The shift from mixed subsistence farming to commodity crops and livestock began in the late 19th century. New capital market systems and the railroad network began the trend towards larger farms that employed fewer people per acre. These larger farms used more efficient technologies such as Deere plows, mechanical reapers, and higher-yield seed stock, which reduced human input per unit of production. The other issue on the Great Plains was that people were using inappropriate farming techniques for the soil and weather conditions. Most homesteaders had family farms generally considered too small to survive (under 320 acres), and European-American subsistence farming could not continue as it was then practiced.
During the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of the 1930s, large numbers of people fled rural areas of the Great Plains and the Midwest due to depressed commodity prices and high debt loads exacerbated by several years of drought and large dust storms. Rural flight from the Great Plains has been depicted in literature, such as John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), in which a family from the Great Plains migrates to California during the Dust Bowl period of the 1930s.
Modern rural flight
Post-World War II rural flight has been caused primarily by the spread of industrialized agriculture. Small, labor-intensive family farms have grown into, or have been replaced by, heavily mechanized and specialized industrial farms. While a small family farm typically produced a wide range of crop, garden, and animal products—all requiring substantial labor—large industrial farms typically specialize in just a few crop or livestock varieties, using large machinery and high-density livestock containment systems that require a fraction of the labor per unit produced. For example, Iowa State University reports the number of hog farmers in Iowa dropped from 65,000 in 1980 to 10,000 in 2002, while the number of hogs per farm increased from 200 to 1,400.
The consolidation of the feed, seed, processed grain, and livestock industries has meant that there are fewer small businesses in rural areas. This decrease in turn exacerbated the decreased demand for labor. Rural areas that used to be able to provide employment for all young adults willing to work in challenging conditions, increasingly provide fewer opportunities for young adults. The situation is made worse by the decrease in services such as schools, business, and cultural opportunities that accompany the decline in population, and the increasing age of the remaining population further stresses the social service system of rural areas.
Abandonment of small towns
The loss of population in rural areas leads to the abandonment of small towns, turning their once thriving downtown areas into empty or underutilized storefronts. The rise of corporate agricultural structures directly affects small rural communities, resulting in decreased populations, decreased incomes for some segments, increased income inequality, decreased community participation, fewer retailed outlets and less retail trade, and increased environmental pollution.
Determinants of Rural Flight
There are several determinants, push and pull, that contribute to rural flight: lower levels of (perceived) economic opportunity in rural communities versus urban ones, lower levels of government investment in rural communities, greater education opportunities in cities, marriages, increased social acceptance in urban areas, and higher levels of rural fertility.
Some migrants choose to leave rural communities out of the desire to pursue greater economic opportunity in urban areas. Greater economic opportunities can be real or perceived. According to the Harris-Todaro Model, migration to urban areas will continue as long as “expected urban real income at the margin exceeds real agricultural product” (127). Since the industrialization of agriculture, mechanization has reduced the number of jobs present in rural communities. Some scholars have also attributed rural flight to the effects of globalization as the demand for increased economic competitiveness leads people to choose capital over labor.  At the same time, rural fertility rates have historically been higher than urban fertility rates.  The combination of declining rural jobs and a persistently high rural fertility rate has led to rural-urban migration streams. Rural flight also contains a positive feedback loop where previous migrants from rural communities assist new migrants in adjusting to city life. Also known as chain migration, migrant networks lower barriers to rural flight. For example, an overwhelming majority of rural migrants in China located jobs in urban areas through migrant networks. 
Some families choose to send their children to cities as a form of investment for the future. A study conducted by Bates and Bennett (1974) concluded that rural communities in Zambia that had other viable investment opportunities, like livestock for instance, had lower rates of rural-urban migration as compared to regions without viable investment opportunities. Sending their children into cities can serve as long-term investments with the hope that their children will be able to send remittances back home after getting a job in the city. 
In other instances, rural flight may occur in response to social determinants. A study conducted in 2012 indicated that a significant proportion of rural flight in India occurred due to social factors such as migration with household, marriage, and education. Migration with households and marriage affect women in particular as most often they are the ones required to move with households and move for marriage, especially in developing regions. 
Rural youth may choose to leave their rural communities as a method of transitioning into adulthood, seeking avenues to greater prosperity. With the stagnation of the rural economy and encouragement from their parents, rural youth may choose to migrate to cities out of social norms – demonstrating leadership and self-respect.  With this societal encouragement combined with depressed rural economies, rural youth form a large proportion of the migrants moving to urban areas. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a study conducted by Touray in 2006 indicated that about 15% (26 million) of urban migrants were youth.
Lastly, natural disasters can often be single-point events that lead to temporarily massive rural-urban migration flows. The 1930s Dust Bowl in the United States for example led to the flight of 2.5 million people from the Plains by 1940, many to the new cities in the West. It is estimated that as many as 1 out of every 4 residents in the Plains States left during the 1930s. More recently, drought in Syria from 2006-2011 has prompted a rural exodus to major urban centers. Massive influxes in urban areas, combined with difficult living conditions, have prompted some scholars to link the drought to the arrival of the Arab Spring in Syria.
In the United States and Canada
The terms are used in the United States and Canada to describe the flight of people from rural areas in the Great Plains and Midwest regions, and to a lesser extent rural areas of the northeast and southeast. It is also particularly noticeable in parts of Atlantic Canada (especially Newfoundland), since the collapse of Atlantic cod fishing fields in 1992.
Rural flight has been occurring to some degree in Germany since the 11th century. A corresponding principle of German law is Stadtluft macht frei ("city air makes you free"), in longer form Stadtluft macht frei nach Jahr und Tag ("city air makes you free after a year and a day"): by custom and, from 1231/32, by statute, a serf who had spent a year and a day in a city was free, and could not be reclaimed by their former master.
In 1870 the rural population of Germany constituted 64% of the population; by 1907 it had shrunk to 33%. In 1900 alone, the Prussian provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, Posen, Silesia, and Pomerania lost about 1,600,000 people to the cities, where these former agricultural workers were absorbed into the rapidly growing factory labor class; One of the causes of this mass-migration was the decrease in rural income compared to the rates of pay in the cities.
Landflucht resulted in a major transformation of the German countryside and agriculture. Mechanized agriculture and migrant workers, particularly Poles from the east (Sachsenganger), became more common. This was especially true in the province of Posen that was gained by Prussia when Poland was partitioned. The Polish population of eastern Germany was one of the justifications for the creation of the "Polish corridor" after World War I and the absorption of the land east of the Oder-Neisse line into Poland after World War II. Also, some labor-intensive enterprises were replaced by much less labor-intensive ones such as game preserves.
Russia and Ukraine
In Russia and Ukraine the problem of rural flight is particularly severe, because - in contrast to most developed countries - it's combined with net population loss, where birth rates are low, but death and emigration rates high. This leads to many deserted villages, as the young people move to the cities or abroad and old people die. One of the worst hit areas in Russia is Pskov Oblast, where population declined from 1.67 million in 1926 to 673 000 in 2011, while the rural population declined by more. In Ukraine the worst hit is Chernihiv Oblast, where the population has fallen 23% from the 1959 figure of 1,554,000, the steepest decline of any Ukrainian oblast.
Contemporary developing countries
Today the phenomenon of rural flight is also well known in developing countries, where many people in the countryside live below the poverty line. They migrate to cities to find employment or education, but contributing to Urban sprawl. In developing countries, rural exodus is a more recent and rapid process than it was in developed ones. Many of the most populated cities are now in developing countries.
Consequences of Rural Flight
Rural migrants to cities face several challenges that may hinder their quality of life upon moving into urbanized areas. Many migrants do not have the education or skills to acquire decent jobs in cities and are then forced into unstable, low paying jobs. The steady stream of new rural migrants worsens underemployment and unemployment, common among rural migrants. Employers offer lower wages and poorer labor conditions to rural migrants, who must compete with each other for limited jobs, often unaware of their labor rights. Rural migrants often experience poor living conditions as well. Many cities have exploded in population; services and infrastructure, in these cities, are unable to keep up with population growth. Massive influxes in rural population can lead to severe housing shortages, inadequate water and energy supply, and general slum-like conditions throughout cities.  
Additionally, rural migrants often struggle adjusting to city life. In some instances, there are cultural differences between the rural and urban areas of a region. Lost in urban regions, it becomes difficult for them to continue holding onto their cultural traditions. Urban residents may also look down upon these newcomers to the city who are often unaware of city social norms. Both marginalized and separated from their home cultures, migrants face many social challenges when moving to cities.
Women, in particular, face a unique set of challenges. Some women undergo rural flight to escape domestic abuse or forced early marriages. Some parents choose to send women to cities to find jobs in order to send remittances back home. Once in the city, employers may attempt to take advantage of these women preying on their unfamiliarity with labor laws and social networks on which to rely. In the worst of cases, destitution may force women into prostitution, exposing them to social stigma and the risks of sexually transmitted diseases. 
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