January 19, 2022

New Data From U.S. Census Shows Differences Between Urban and Rural Populations

From the U.S. Census:

People who live in rural areas are more likely to own their own homes, live in their state of birth and have served in the military than their urban counterparts, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.


As the nation’s largest household survey, the American Community Survey is the only annual dataset that produces this range of statistics for all of the nation’s 3,142 counties. For the three-fourths of all counties with populations too small to produce single-year statistics (2,323 counties), it is the only available dataset.

“Rural areas cover 97 percent of the nation’s land area but contain 19.3 percent of the population (about 60 million people),” Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson said. “By combining five years of survey responses, the American Community Survey provides unequaled insight into the state of every community, whether large or small, urban or rural.”

Today’s release features data collected between 2011 and 2015 on more than 40 demographic, housing, social and economic topics, including commuting, educational attainment and home value. These statistics are available to explore on the Census Bureau website [via American Factfinder].

Selected Findings

There were about 47 million adults 18 years and older living in rural areas. Most adults in both rural and urban areas owned their own homes but the percentage was higher in rural areas (81.1 percent compared with 59.8 percent). Adults in rural areas were also more likely to live in single-family homes (78.3 percent compared with 64.6 percent) and live in their state of birth (65.4 percent compared with 48.3 percent). Veterans comprised 10.4 percent of the population of adults in rural areas compared with 7.8 percent of adults in urban areas.

Adults in rural areas had a median age of 51, making them older compared with adults in urban areas with a median age of 45. They had lower rates of poverty (11.7 percent compared with 14.0 percent) but were less likely to have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher (19.5 percent compared with 29.0). Rural communities had fewer adults born in other countries compared with those in urban areas (4.0 percent compared with 19.0 percent).

Additional findings showed: (see infographic for more information)

  • About 13.4 million children under the age of 18 lived in the rural areas of the nation.
  • Children in rural areas had lower rates of poverty (18.9 percent compared with 22.3 percent) but more of them were uninsured (7.3 percent compared with 6.3 percent). A higher percentage of own children in rural areas lived in married-couple households (76.3 percent compared with 67.4 percent). (“Own children” includes never-married biological, step and adopted children of the couple.)
  • Compared with households in urban areas, rural households had lower median household income ($52,386 compared with $54,296), lower median home values ($151,300 compared with $190,900), and lower monthly housing costs for households paying a mortgage ($1,271 compared with $1,561). A higher percentage owned their housing units “free and clear,” with no mortgage or loan (44.0 percent compared with 32.3 percent).
  • States with the highest median household incomes in rural areas were Connecticut ($93,382) and New Jersey ($92,972) (not statistically different from each other). The state with the lowest rural median household income was Mississippi ($40,200). Among rural areas, poverty rates varied from a low in Connecticut (4.6 percent) to a high in New Mexico (21.9 percent).

Differences in the Rural Population Based on Level of Rurality

Researchers also compared rural residents in 704 completely rural counties—those whose entire populations lived in rural areas—with their rural counterparts in counties that were mostly rural, and those that were mostly urban. (See new blog coming soon: “Rurality Matters”.)

Between 2011 and 2015, about 9.0 percent of the rural population in the United States (5.3 million) lived in these completely rural counties, compared with about 41.0 percent (24.6 million) in the 1,185 mostly rural counties and about 50.0 percent (30.1 million) in the 1,253 mostly urban counties.

For a complete list of counties and where they fall on the rural-urban spectrum, visit this County Look-Up Table.

The American Community Survey five-year statistics show that the characteristics of rural residents differed depending on the level of rurality of their county of residence.

Additional Resources 

The Rural America: How Does the U.S. Census Bureau Define “Rural? interactive story map provides a multimedia application experience. It contains interactive web maps, information and images to help explain how the Census Bureau defines “rural.”

Brief: Defining Rural at the U.S. Census Bureau

Blog Posts


PDF Version Also Available

Measuring America: Our Changing Landscape

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Also New From American Community Survey

The 5-year statistics now have “Comparison Profile” tables. These data compare differences between the latest set of American Community Survey 5-year statistics (2011-2015) and the most recent, nonoverlapping five-year dataset (2006-2010). The tables note statistically significant differences.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.