In general, a rural area or a countryside is a geographic area that is located outside towns and cities. The Health Resources and Services Administration of the United States Department of Health and Human Services defines the word rural as encompassing "...all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area. Whatever is not urban is considered rural." Typical rural areas have a low population density and small settlements. Agricultural areas and areas with forestry typically are described as rural. Different countries have varying definitions of rural for statistical and administrative purposes.
Rural areas, because of their unique economic and social dynamics, and relationship to land-based industry such as agriculture, forestry and resource extraction, the economics are very different from cities and can be subject to boom and bust cycles and vulnerability to extreme weather or natural disasters, such as droughts. These dynamics alongside larger economic forces encouraging to urbanization have lead to significant demographic declines, called rural flight, where economic incentives encourage younger populations to go to cities for education and access to jobs leaving older, less educated and less wealthy populations in the rural areas. Slower economic development results in poorer services like healthcare and education and rural infrastructure. This cycle cycle of poverty in some rural areas, means that three quarters of the global population in poverty live in rural areas according to the Food and Agricultural Organization.
Some communities have successfully encouraged economic development in rural areas, with some policies such as giving increased access to electricity or internet, proving very successful on encouraging economic activities in rural areas. Historically development policies have focused on larger extractive industries, such as mining and forestry. However, recent approaches more focused on sustainable development are more aware of economic diversification in these communities.
In Canada, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development defines a "predominantly rural region" as having more than 50% of the population living in rural communities where a "rural community" has a population density less than 150 people per square kilometer. In Canada, the census division has been used to represent "regions" and census consolidated sub-divisions have been used to represent "communities". Intermediate regions have 15 to 49 percent of their population living in a rural community. Predominantly urban regions have less than 15 percent of their population living in a rural community. Predominantly rural regions are classified as rural metro-adjacent, rural non-metro-adjacent and rural northern, following Philip Ehrensaft and Jennifer Beeman (1992). Rural metro-adjacent regions are predominantly rural census divisions which are adjacent to metropolitan centers while rural non-metro-adjacent regions are those predominantly rural census divisions which are not adjacent to metropolitan centers. Rural northern regions are predominantly rural census divisions that are found either entirely or mostly above the following lines of latitude in each province: Newfoundland and Labrador, 50th; Manitoba, 53rd; Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan, 54th. As well, rural northern regions encompass all of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Statistics Canada defines rural areas by their population counts. This definition has changed over time (see Appendix A in du Plessis et al., 2002). Typically, it has referred to the population living outside settlements of 1,000 or fewer inhabitants. The current definition states that census rural is the population outside settlements with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants and a population density below 400 people per square kilometer (Statistics Canada, 2007).
Rural areas in the United States, often referred to as Rural America, consists of approximately 97% of the United States' land area. An estimated 60 million people, or one-in-five residents (19.3% of the total U.S. population), live in Rural America. Definitions vary from different parts of the United States government as to what constitutes these areas.Rural areas tend to be poorer and older than other parts of the United States, in part because of rural flight, declining infrastructure and economic prospects. This declining population also results in less access to services, such as high quality medical and education systems.
In Brazil, there are different notions of "rural area" and "countryside". Rural areas are any place outside a municipality's urban development (buildings, streets) and it is carried by informal usage. Otherwise, countryside (interior in Portuguese) are officially defined as all municipalities outside the state/territory capital's metropolitan region. Some states as Mato Grosso do Sul do not have any metropolitan regions, thus all of the state, except its capital is officially countryside. Rio de Janeiro is singular in Brazil and it is de facto a metropolitan state, as circa 70% of its population are located in Greater Rio. In the Federal District it is not applicable and there is no countryside as all of it is treated as the federal capital. Brasília is nominally the capital, but the capitality is shared through all Federal District, because Brazil de facto defines its capital as a municipality, and in municipal matters, the Federal District is treated and governs as a single municipality, city-state-like (Brasília, DF).
15% of French population live in rural areas, spread over 90% of the country. President Emmanuel Macron government launched an action plan in 2019 in favour for rural areas named "Agenda Rural". Among many initiatives recommended to redynamize rural areas, energy transition is one of them. Research is being carried out to assess the impact of new projects in rural areas.
Germany is divided into 402 administrative districts, 295 rural districts and 107 urban districts. As one of the largest agricultural producers in the European Union, more than half of Germany's territory which is almost 19 million hectares, is used for farming, and located in the rural areas. Almost 10% of people in Germany have jobs related to the agricultural, forest and fisheries sectors; approximately a fifth of them are employed in the primary production. Since there is a policy of equal living conditions, people see rural areas as equivalent as urban areas. Village renewal is an approach to develop countryside and supports the challenges faced in the process of it.
In Britain, "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 more than 26% of its population living in a rural settlement or market town ("market town" being defined as any settlement which has permission to hold a street market). A number of measures are in place to protect the British countryside, including green belts.
Rural areas are also known as the 'countryside' or a 'village' in India. It has a very low population density. In rural areas, agriculture is the chief source of livelihood along with fishing, cottage industries, pottery etc.
The quest to discover the real rural India still continues in great earnest. Almost every economic agency today has a definition of rural India. Here are a few definitions: According to the Planning Commission, a town with a maximum population of 15,000 is considered rural in nature. In these areas the panchayat makes all the decisions. There are five people in the panchayat. The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) defines ‘rural’ as follows:
- An area with a population density of up to 400 per square kilometer,
- Villages with clear surveyed boundaries but no municipal board,
- A minimum of 75% of male working population involved in agriculture and allied activities.
RBI defines rural areas as those areas with a population of less than 49,000 (tier -3 to tier-6 cities).
It is generally said that the rural areas house up to 70% of India's population. Rural India contributes a large chunk to India's GDP by way of agriculture, self-employment, services, construction etc. As per a strict measure used by the National Sample Survey in its 63rd round, called monthly per capita expenditure, rural expenditure accounts for 55% of total national monthly expenditure. The rural population currently accounts for one-third of the total Indian FMCG sales.
According to the 2017 census about 64% of Pakistanis live in rural areas. Most rural areas in Pakistan tend to be near cities and are peri-urban areas. This is due to the definition of a rural area in Pakistan being an area that does not come within an urban boundary. Rural areas in Pakistan that are near cities are considered as suburban areas or suburbs.
The remote rural villagers of Pakistan commonly live in houses made of bricks, clay or mud. Socioeconomic status among rural Pakistani villagers is often based upon the ownership of agricultural land, which also may provide social prestige in village cultures. The majority of rural Pakistani inhabitants livelihoods is based upon the rearing of livestock, which also comprises a significant part of Pakistan's gross domestic product. Some livestock raised by rural Pakistanis include cattle and goats.
In New Zealand census areas are classified based on their degree of rurality. However, traffic law has a different interpretation and defines a Rural area as "... a road or a geographical area that is not an urban traffic area, to which the rural speed limit generally applies."
Rural Development has traditionally centered on the exploitation of land-intensive natural resources such as agriculture and forestry. However, changes in global production networks and increased urbanization have changed the character of rural areas. Increasingly tourism, niche manufacturers, and recreation have replaced resource extraction and agriculture as dominant economic drivers. The need for rural communities to approach development from a wider perspective has created more focus on a broad range of development goals rather than merely creating incentive for agricultural or resource based businesses. Education, entrepreneurship, physical infrastructure, and social infrastructure all play an important role in developing rural regions. Rural development is also characterized by its emphasis on locally produced economic development strategies. In contrast to urban regions, which have many similarities, rural areas are highly distinctive from one another. For this reason there are a large variety of rural development approaches used globally.Rural development is a comprehensive term. It essentially focuses on action for the development of areas outside the mainstream urban economic system.
Rural electrification is the process of bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas. Rural communities are suffering from colossal market failures as the national grids fall short of their demand for electricity. As of 2017, over 1 billion people worldwide lack household electric power – 14% of the global population. Electrification typically begins in cities and towns and gradually extends to rural areas, however, this process often runs into obstacles in developing nations. Expanding the national grid is expensive and countries consistently lack the capital to grow their current infrastructure. Additionally, amortizing capital costs to reduce the unit cost of each hook-up is harder to do in lightly populated areas (yielding higher per capita share of the expense). If countries are able to overcome these obstacles and reach nationwide electrification, rural communities will be able to reap considerable amounts of economic and social development.
Rural poverty refers to poverty in rural areas, including factors of rural society, rural economy, and political systems that give rise to the poverty found there. Rural areas, because of their spread-out populations, typically have less well maintained infrastructure and a harder time accessing markets, which tend to be concentrated in population centers. Rural communities also face disadvantages in terms of legal and social protections, with women and marginalized communities frequently having hard times accessing land, education and other support systems that help with economic development. Several policies have been tested in both developing and developed economies, including rural electrification and access to other technologies such as internet, gender parity, and improved access to credit and income.
In academic studies, Rural poverty is often discussed in conjunction with spatial inequality, which in this context refers to the inequality between urban and rural areas. Both rural poverty and spatial inequality are global phenomena, but like poverty in general, there are higher rates of rural poverty in developing countries than in developed countries.Eradicating rural poverty through effective policies and economic growth remains a challenge for the international community. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, three quarters of those in poverty are in rural areas, most of whom are smallholders or agricultural workers whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on agriculture. These food systems are vulnerable to extreme weather, which is expected to effect agricultural systems the world over more as climate change increases. Thus the climate crises is expected to reduce the effectiveness of programs reducing rural poverty and cause displacement of rural communities to urban centers. Sustainable Development Goal 1: No Poverty sets international goals to address these issues, and are deeply connected with investments in a sustainable food system as part of Sustainable Develop Goal 2: Zero Hunger.
 In medicine, rural health or rural medicine is the interdisciplinary study of health and health care delivery in rural environments. The concept of rural health incorporates many fields, including geography, midwifery, nursing, sociology, economics, and telehealth or telemedicine.
Research shows that the healthcare needs of individuals living in rural areas are different from those in urban areas, and rural areas often suffer from a lack of access to healthcare. These differences are the result of geographic, demographic, socioeconomic, workplace, and personal health factors. For example, many rural communities have a large proportion of elderly people and children. With relatively few people of working age (20–50 years of age), such communities have a high dependency ratio. People living in rural areas also tend to have poorer socioeconomic conditions, less education, higher rates of tobacco and alcohol use, and higher mortality rates when compared to their urban counterparts. There are also high rates of poverty among rural dwellers in many parts of the world, and poverty is one of the biggest social determinants of health.Many countries have made it a priority to increase funding for research on rural health. These efforts have led to the development of several research institutes with rural health mandates, including the Centre for Rural and Northern Health Research in Canada, Countryside Agency in the United Kingdom, the Institute of Rural Health in Australia, and the New Zealand Institute of Rural Health. These research efforts are designed to help identify the healthcare needs of rural communities and provide policy solutions to ensure those needs are met. The concept of incorporating the needs of rural communities into government services is sometimes referred to as rural proofing.
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with India and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (January 2021)
Rural residence is a fertility factor, with total fertility rates and pregnancy being higher among women in rural areas than among women in urban areas and the rural population is much younger than urban areas.
Because of their unique dynamics, different academic fields have developed to study rural communities.
- farm and non-farm industry
- economic growth, development, and change
- size and spatial distribution of production and household units and interregional trade
- land use
- housing and non-housing as to supply and demand
- migration and (de)population
- government policies as to development, investment, regulation, and transportation
- general-equilibrium and welfare analysis, for example, system interdependencies and rural-urban income disparities
Rural sociology is a field of sociology traditionally associated with the study of social structure and conflict in rural areas although topical areas such as food and agriculture or natural resource access transcend traditional rural spatial boundaries (Sociology Guide 2011). It is an active academic field in much of the world, originating in the United States in the 1910s with close ties to the national Department of Agriculture and land-grant university colleges of agriculture.The sociology of food and agriculture is one focus of rural sociology, and much of the field is dedicated to the economics of farm production. Other areas of study include rural migration and other demographic patterns, environmental sociology, amenity-led development, public-lands policies, so-called "boomtown" development, social disruption, the sociology of natural resources (including forests, mining, fishing and other areas), rural cultures and identities, rural health-care, and educational policies. Many rural sociologists work in the areas of development studies, community studies, community development, and environmental studies. Much of the research involves developing countries or the Third World.
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