Rural population

Figure 1. Rural area in Denizli in Southwestern Turkey.[1]

Rural population refers to the population in areas that have a lower population density than urban areas and are spread over a larger area out than urban centres. Rural population is the population living outside of cities. Work in these areas is often more focused on agriculture than urban areas.

Poorer countries tend to have a higher rural population than more developed countries. In some of the least developed countries, the rural population dominates. Some organizations have even used the percentage of people living in rural areas compared to the urban population as an indication of the overall wealth and development of a country, but this can be problematic. In the near future, as world population increases, organizations like the United Nations predict that the percentage of people living in rural areas will steadily decrease as people migrate from rural areas into cities.[2]

Effects of Decreased Rural Population

The shrinking of rural populations has both positive and negative side effects in terms of what rural-urban migration does to quality of life. Earnings from non-farming activities are estimated to account for 30-50% of rural household income in Africa and about 60% in Asia.[3] Since rural populations do not rely completely on their rural income, the slow rural-urban migration can act as a form of income diversification that can support farming innovation. Small family farms that are well connected to markets can compete with larger, more commercial, farms. In addition, the urbanization provides people with better access to previously difficult to access amenities such as health care, social services, and higher-income jobs. This, in time, works to reduce the issue of rural poverty.

This migration removes some farmers from the agriculture industry, causing a declining ratio of food producers to food consumers. As technology improves, an individual farmer can produce more food, freeing people up for other work. The downside is that when many people move to cities in hopes of finding higher income jobs, the large influx of workers to the cities may make it difficult for people to find jobs that pay well despite their qualifications.

For more information, please see the UN's World Population Division.

See also: Urban population

Interactive Map

The heat map below can be used to show which countries have a comparatively large portion of their population living in rural areas. A more yellow colour indicates a larger portion of the population living in the countrysides. Roll over the map to look at the names of the countries and the percentage of their population that lives in rural areas.

For Further Reading


  1. "Rural area in Denizli" Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
  2. United Nations Population Division. (2015, Feb. 18). Country Profiles [Online]. Available:
  3. Gordon McGranahan et al. (2015, Feb. 18). Urbanization and its Implications for Food and Farming [Online]. Available:

Authors and Editors

Allison Campbell, Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: April 28, 2020
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