The Differing Socioeconomic Characteristics of America’s Rural and Urban Populations

December 13, 2016

This article is included in these additional categories:

Demographics & Audiences | Education | Financial Services | Household Income | Pharma & Healthcare | Real Estate

censusbureau-us-rural-v-urban-population-characteristics-dec2016America’s rural population tends to lag its urban counterpart in digital aspects such as internet adoption, broadband penetration and social networking use. But how do these community types measure up in terms of their socioeconomic characteristics? The Census Bureau offers new insights, based on a review of 5 years’ worth of data from the American Community Survey (ACS).

One of the more striking findings from the report is the extent to which the population sizes have shifted over the past century. Whereas in 1910 the rural population accounted for a majority (54.5%) of the US population, it now represents slightly less than one-fifth (19.3%) of the population. That’s despite rural areas covering 97% of the nation’s land area.

Looking at the socioeconomic characteristics based on the past 5 years of ACS results, the study indicates that rural adults tend to have a slightly older median age (51 vs. 45) and be more likely to be married (61.9% vs. 50.8%). Interestingly, fewer than half of urban adults (48.3%) live in the state of their birth, compared to almost two-thirds of rural adults. And while urban adults are more likely to have a college degree (29% vs. 19.5%), both the poverty and uninsured rates are higher among urban than rural adults.

Almost exactly 1 in every 7 urban adults (14.3%), meanwhile, lives alone, compared to fewer than 1 in 8 (11.6%) rural adults. Separate data recently released by the US Census Bureau shows that the average household size in the US continues to decline as more Americans live alone.

Turning to housing and households, the study finds that median household incomes are fairly well-matched between the rural ($52,386) and urban ($54,296) populations. Homeownership rates are significantly higher among rural (81.1%) than urban (59.6%) Americans, though median home values are about 26% higher for the urban ($190,900) than rural ($151,300) community.

Other findings show that:

  • Almost 1 in 5 adults (19%) in urban communities were born in another country, compared with just 4% of rural adults;
  • A higher proportion of rural (44%) than urban (32.3%) households own their housing units “free and clear” with no mortgage or loan; and
  • Rural households have lower monthly housing costs for households paying a mortgage than urban households ($1,271 and $1,561, respectively).

Finally, as for internet access? Almost one-quarter (23.8%) of the rural population lacks internet access, per the 2015 ACS results, compared to 17.3% of the urban population.

About the Data: The results are based on statistics from the American Community Survey: 2011-2015. Internet access data is sourced from the American Community Survey: 2015.


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