Exploring definitions of “rural”

There is no single definition of “rural.” In fact, there are more than 10 definitions of “rural” across federal agencies and national rural organizations. The definitions used by federal agencies, in particular, span three geographic units of analysis: census tract, county, and zip code. From population density to commuting patterns to adjacency to a metropolitan area, the definitions also take into account different variables.

Our Exploring Definitions of “Rural” Map captures the range of definitions used by the federal government, including the definitions of “rural” used by the Economic Development Agency, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), the U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others. This map provides a summary of these different definitions, as well as displays the geographies associated with each.

The map allows for more targeted exploration, too. There is a search field that can be used to determine whether a specific town or county meets each of the different definitions of “rural.”

Use this map to:

  • Understand how different federal agencies define “rural”
  • Compare your own understanding of “rural” with the definitions used by a cross section of federal agencies
  • Identify communities in your area that meet specific definitions

About our work

The Center On Rural Innovation builds data-driven maps, tools, and resources that highlight rural America’s opportunities and challenges. To learn more about our work, visit our data and mapping page.

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