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In the National Interest: Defining Rural and Urban Correctly in Research and Public Policy


  • Andrew M. Isserman

    (Departments of Agricultural and Consumer Economics and Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois, Urbana


Researchers and policy makers depend on two federal systems when defining urban and rural. One, designed by the U.S. Census Bureau, separates the territory of the nation into urban and rural. Its intent is to differentiate urban and rural. The other, designed under the leadership of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), focuses on the integration of urban and rural within metropolitan and micropolitan areas. Forgetting the distinction between separation and integration is dangerous, for example, when (mis)using the OMB system as if it differentiated between urban and rural. At stake is the misunderstanding of rural conditions, the misdirection of federal programs and funds, and a breakdown of communication that confuses people. This article presents two alternatives that can strengthen the foundations of research and policy and uses one of them to analyze rural distress and prosperity. Much can be gained by using these better rural definitions to replicate important research to see whether key findings hold true and to review eligibility requirements and funding procedures to determine whether government programs are reaching the rural people and places they are intended to serve.

Suggested Citation

  • Andrew M. Isserman, 2005. "In the National Interest: Defining Rural and Urban Correctly in Research and Public Policy," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 28(4), pages 465-499, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:inrsre:v:28:y:2005:i:4:p:465-499

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    Cited by:

    1. Tsvetkova, Alexandra & Partridge, Mark & Betz, Micael, 2016. "Entrepreneurial and Wage and Salary Employment Response to Economic Conditions Across the Rural-Urban Continuum," MPRA Paper 75781, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Fangwu Wei & Tony H. Grubesic, 2015. "A Typology of Rural Airports in the United States: Evaluating Network Accessibility," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 45(1), pages 57-85, Spring.
    3. Barnard, Freddie L. & Yeager, Elizabeth A., 2015. "Access to Agricultural Banks in Rural Counties in the Face of Changing Demographics, Evolving Social Preferences, and Increasing Bank Regulations," Journal of the ASFMRA, American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.
    4. Bev Wilson & Mallory L. Rahe, 2016. "Rural prosperity and federal expenditures, 2000–2010," Regional Science Policy & Practice, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 8(1-2), pages 3-26, March.
    5. George Hammond & Brian J. Osoba, 2007. "Metropolitan Statistical Area Designation: Aggregate And Industry Growth Impacts," Working Papers 07-01, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
    6. Fannin, J. Matthew & Barnes, James N., 2009. "Spatial Model Specification for Contractual Arrangements between Rural Hospitals and Physicians," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 39(2), pages 189-211.
    7. Eathington, Liesl, 2015. "Nanopolitans and Picopolitans: Exploring the Value of Core-Based Definitions Below the Micropolitan Level," Staff General Research Papers Archive 38991, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    8. Isserman, Andrew M., . "Getting State Rural Policy Right: Definitions, Growth, and Program Eligibility," Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy, Mid-Continent Regional Science Association.
    9. Parshall, Lily & Gurney, Kevin & Hammer, Stephen A. & Mendoza, Daniel & Zhou, Yuyu & Geethakumar, Sarath, 2010. "Modeling energy consumption and CO2 emissions at the urban scale: Methodological challenges and insights from the United States," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(9), pages 4765-4782, September.
    10. David Mushinski & Alexandra Bernasek & Stephan Weiler, 2015. "Job Lock in Rural versus Urban Labor Markets," Growth and Change, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 253-273, June.
    11. Lambert, D. M. & Clark, C. D. & Wilcox, M. D. & Park, W. M., 2007. "Do Migrating Seniors Affect Business Establishment and Job Growth? An Empirical Look at Southeastern Nonmetropolitan Counties, 2000-2004," The Review of Regional Studies, Southern Regional Science Association, vol. 37(2), pages 251-278.
    12. Thomas G. Johnson, 2013. "Rural policy," Chapters,in: Handbook of Rural Development, chapter 3, pages i-ii Edward Elgar Publishing.
    13. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:11:p:2146-:d:119794 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Brigitte S. Waldorf & Julia Beckhusen & Raymond J.G.M. Florax & Thomas De Graaff, 2010. "The role of human capital in language acquisition among immigrants in US metropolitan," Regional Science Policy & Practice, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 2(1), pages 39-49, June.
    15. Rickman, Dan S., . "A Brief on When and How Rural Economic Development Should be Done," Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy, Mid-Continent Regional Science Association.
    16. Kaza, Nikhil & Quercia, Roberto & Sahadi, Robert J., 2014. "Home energy efficiency and mortgage risks: an extended abstract," Community Development Investment Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue 01, pages 063-069.


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