In this brief, authors Kenneth Johnson and Daniel Lichter examine demographic trends in rural America, a region often overlooked in a nation dominated by urban interests. They report that nearly 35 percent of rural counties are experiencing protracted and significant population loss. Depopulation is the result of chronic rural outmigration, mostly by young adults, which contributes to fewer births. As the sizeable older population that did not migrate ages in place, the mortality rate rises. Rural depopulation is not universal. Some rural areas have experienced significant population growth for decades. The authors’ study provides a demographic window to the future and a sober forecast of continuing rural population decline in many economically depressed regions. Future rural population growth and decline clearly are deeply rooted in evolving patterns of migration, fertility, and mortality. It is past time to refocus our attention on the rural people and places left behind.

Publication Date

Winter 2-6-2019


National Issue Brief No. 139


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2019. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.





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