Most Rural States 2021

Rural is defined as being in, relating to , or characteristic of the countryside or a geographic area located outside of towns and cities. The U.S. Census Bureau fines rural as “any population, housing, or territory not in an urban area.”

According to the Census Bureau, about 80.7% of the U.S. population is located in urban areas. This means that the urban population is 249,253,271, and the rural population is 59,492,276. By 2050, it’s expected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

Characteristics of Rural Areas

Researchers and policy officials have used several definitions to distinguish rural areas from urban areas, which has created confusion. This also highlights that rural and urban are multidimensional concepts. Sometimes rural areas are defined by population density and sometimes by their geographic isolation. Population size is also commonly used to determine rural areas, with thresholds ranging from 2,500 to 50,000.

Generally, rural areas share the following characteristics:

  • A small population size
  • A generally low population density
  • A lower cost of living
  • Lower wages and, consequently, higher poverty rates
  • Lots of fame land, ranch land, and nature
  • Less access to shopping, doctors, and other services
  • An aging population

Americans in rural areas are increasingly well educated in recent decades. In 1970, 56% of rural adults 25 and older did not have a high school diploma, which decreased to 15% in 2015. Additionally, about 3 out of 10 rural adults have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. Historically, urban areas have had a higher percentage of adults with college degrees. Education is correlated with economic outcomes, so lower educational attainment in rural areas is closely related to higher poverty rates, child poverty rates, and higher unemployment rates. Urban areas tend to have more employment opportunities and higher wages allow more adults to get college degrees.

According to the Census Bureau, most of the rural population is cluster within the vicinity of urban areas. This is common because rural farms often serve the needs of the rural communities and those of nearby cities.

Perceptions of rural areas vary among Americans. Some see rural Americans as the backbone of the nations, supplying food and representing individualism and self-sufficiency. On the other hand, some see rural Americans as burdened by poor job opportunities and low ages, causing persistent poverty.

Most Rural States in the U.S.

Using the most recent U.S. Census data from 2010, Stacker ranked each state by its rural population.

Below are the ten most rural states in the U.S., including their percentage of the population living in rural areas, rural population density, and rural land area.

1. Maine

  • 2010 rural population: 61.3%
  • Rural population density: 26.7 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 98.8%

2. Vermont

  • 2010 rural population: 61.1%
  • Rural population density: 42.2 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 98.3%

3. West Virginia

  • 2010 rural population: 51.3%
  • Rural population density: 40.6 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 97.3%

4. Mississippi

  • 2010 rural population: 50.7%
  • Rural population density: 32.8 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 97.6%

5. Montana

  • 2010 rural population: 44.1%
  • Rural population density: 3 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 99.8%

6. Arkansas

  • 2010 rural population: 43.8%
  • Rural population density: 25.1 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 97.9%

7. South Dakota

  • 2010 rural population: 43.4%
  • Rural population density: 4.7 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 99.7%

8. Kentucky

  • 2010 rural population: 41.6%
  • Rural population density: 47.4 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 96.4%

9. Alabama

  • 2010 rural population: 41.0%
  • Rural population density: 40.4 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 95.6%

10. North Dakota

  • 2010 rural population: 40.1%
  • Rural population density: 3.9 persons per square mile
  • Rural land area: 99.7%

Most Rural States 2021