There is no single, universally preferred definition of rural that serves all policy purposes. The choice of rural definition affects who benefits from a policy and who does not. Key considerations for understanding the policy implications of different rural definitions include the following:
- Rural definitions can be built on different units of geography, each of which has distinct advantages and disadvantages.
- The two most commonly used classification systems, those of the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget, result in very different sets of places defined as rural.
- Policies and programs can be targeted when rural definitions are combined with key demographic, economic, or health care provider characteristics.
- Rural designations can change with shifts in population distribution or commuting patterns, or as a result of changes in geographic boundaries.
- Data availability is essential to support the application of the rural definition.
- There are many resources that can help with understanding the complexities of rural definitions.
Funding Organization or Grant
This analysis was funded under a cooperative agreement with the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (ORHP), Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, grant number U18RH03719.
Coburn, A. F., MacKinney, A. C., McBride, T. D., Mueller, K. J., Slifkin, R. T., & Wakefield, M. K. (2007, March). Choosing rural definitions: Implications for health policy. (Issue Brief #2). Omaha, NE: Rural Policy Research Institute Health Panel.