What is Rural?

Unfortunately, there is not one universally accepted definition of “rural.”  To some, “rural” is a subjective state of mind and to others “rural” is an objective quantitative measure.  The Alabama Rural Health Association (ARHA) recognizes that there are rural areas in all 67 Alabama counties, even those counties which are unquestionably urban in population.

For analytical purposes, ARHA desires a classification of areas as being “rural” or “urban” at the county level.  This is because most data is not available at sub-county levels, but is available at the county level.  Prior to June 2003, ARHA used the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) classification of counties as being in or not in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) in identifying rural or urban status.  Those counties which were included in MSAs were classified as “urban” and those which were not in MSAs were classified as “rural.”  A re-determination of counties included in MSAs was announced by OMB in June 2003 and several Alabama counties which must be regarded as being “rural” were included in MSAs in this re-determination.  This made the development of a more acceptable method for classifying counties as “rural” or “urban” necessary.

Alabama Rural Health Association’s Definition of Rural

The method developed and used by ARHA uses four variables which are generally accepted as being characteristic of “rural” areas in a formula with each variable accounting for 25 of a possible 100 points.  The higher the overall score, the more “rural” a county is considered as being.  The four variables are as follows:

  1. The percentage of total employment in the county which is  comprised by those employed by the public elementary and secondary school systems.  Since the local school system is the largest single employer in many rural counties, the higher the percentage of employment in school system(s) in relation to total employment, the more rural a county is considered.
  2. The dollar  value of  agricultural production per square mile of land.  The greater the value of agricultural production per square acre, the more rural the county is considered.
  3. The population per square mile of land.  The fewer the number of persons per square mile, the more  rural a county is considered.
  4. An index  is used to assign a score to counties which considers the population of the largest city in the county, the populations of other cities in the county, and the population of cities which are in more than one county.  Counties where the largest incorporated place has a population of under 2,500 are assigned the highest index score of 25.  Counties where the largest incorporated place has a population of 50,000 or more are assigned the lowest index score of 0.

Using this methodology, 55 Alabama counties are classified as “rural” and 12 are classified as “urban.”  The “rural” counties are separated into two groupings for more specific analysis.  One grouping is based upon the degree to which the counties were considered to be rural.  These groupings are referred to as “Heavily Rural” and “Moderately Rural.”  The second grouping divides the “rural” counties by geographic region.  Those in the Appalachian Region of North Alabama are referred to as “Rural North” and those in South Alabama are referred to as “Rural South.”  The population demographics within these two regions vary significantly which makes analysis of the separate regions informative.  Counties included in the groupings are as follows:

 

Rural counties Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Jackson, Lamar, Lawrence, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Russell, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Walker, Washington, Wilcox, and Winston.
Heavily Rural counties Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Cherokee, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Escambia, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Jackson, Lamar, Lawrence, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Sumter, Washington, Wilcox, and Winston.
Moderately Rural counties Autauga, Baldwin, Chambers, Chilton, Colbert, Dale, Elmore, Limestone,  Russell, St. Clair, Talladega, Tallapoosa and Walker.
Rural North counties Bibb, Blount, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, DeKalb, Elmore, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Lamar, Lawrence, Limestone, Macon, Marion, Marshall, Pickens, Randolph, St. Clair, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Walker, and Winston.
Rural South counties Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Dallas, Escambia, Geneva, Greene, Henry, Lowndes, Marengo, Monroe, Perry, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Washington, and Wilcox.
Urban counties Calhoun, Etowah, Houston, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lee, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Morgan, Shelby, and Tuscaloosa.

Determine Whether You Are Rural

The Rural Assistance Hub has developed a form that allows specific areas to determine if they are rural based on their street address or ZIP code.  Click here to access this form and to determine if you are rural based on the various set of federal designations.

 

Analysis of Urban vs. Rural

Click here to view a full analysis of health data with regard to urban vs. rural trends.