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States with the biggest rural populations

  • States with the biggest rural populations

    It's predicted that by 2050, two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities. A once-agrarian planet is rapidly urbanizing, and America is no exception.

    There was a time when most Americans lived in communities that by almost any measure could be called countrified. But today, much of the rural U.S. is hollowing out as young people flee to cities, death rates outnumber birth rates, sparsely populated towns age, metro suburbs expand, immigrants settle in densely populated areas, and so-called "new economy" jobs and wealth become concentrated almost exclusively in urban centers.

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, rural "encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area." To qualify as an urban area, the territory must have 2,500 inhabitants or more, at least 1,500 of whom reside outside institutional group quarters. The classification of "rural" and "urban," however, has changed over time.

    In censuses before 1950, "urban" comprised all territory, people, and housing units in incorporated places of 2,500 or more in areas (usually minor civil divisions) classified as urban under special rules relating to population size and density. But the definition of urban excluded many large, heavily settled areas merely because they were not incorporated. Before 1950, the Census Bureau attempted to avoid some of the more obvious omissions by classifying selected areas as "urban under special rules."  Even with such exceptions, however, many large, built-up areas were not labeled urban.

    Since the Census is taken every 10 years, the most recent data comes from 2010. A century before that in 1910, more than half of America's population lived in rural areas— 54.4%, to be exact. A half-century later in 1960, just 30.1% of the U.S. population was rural, and today that number has fallen to 19.3%—or fewer than one in five Americans living the country life.  

    Using 2010 Census data, Stacker ranked each state by the percentage of its population residing in rural areas—from least to most. The list also includes each state's historical Census data from 1910 and 1960, as well as a breakdown of rural population density and rural land area.

    You may also like: States that have lost the most farms since 2000

  • #50. California

    - 2010 rural population: 5.1% of state (86.8% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 13.6% (#2 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 38.2% (#5 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 12.7 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 94.7%

    Even a century before the most recent census, California was one of the five least rural states in America, despite the fact that nearly 95% of it is rural by land area. Today, aspiring Californians continue to pour into the Golden State, with more than 300,000 people moving to California in 2017 alone, bringing the state's population to just shy of 40 million people. The majority of those new arrivals land in regions that are already California's most densely populated places: the Bay Area, Southern California, and the Central Valley.

  • #49. New Jersey

    - 2010 rural population: 5.3% of state (77.5% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 11.4% (#0 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 23.6% (#3 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 105.5 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 60.3%

    New Jersey is the most densely populated state, one of only two states with more than 1,000 people crammed into the average square mile. With Philadelphia to the south, New York City to the north, and the Jersey Shore along the coast, the state was never particularly rural and is getting more urban every year. Much of that urbanization is credited to millennials, who are showing an overwhelming preference for the state's small cities and compact, walkable suburbs.

  • #48. Nevada

    - 2010 rural population: 5.8% of state (93.1% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 29.6% (#17 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 83.7% (#9 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 1.4 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 99.3%

    Nevada is mostly desert, but the areas where people do live are getting more populated every month. One of the fastest-growing states, Nevada is welcoming a wave of new residents, and the demographics of those newcomers are changing the state. According to U.S. News & World Report, both immigrants and progressives are disproportionately flooding the state's cities and suburbs, creating a political shift while bolstering Nevada's century-long race toward urbanization.

  • #47. Massachusetts

    - 2010 rural population: 8.0% of state (27.0% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 16.4% (#4 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 11.0% (#1 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 109.2 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 61.7%

    Massachusetts is the fastest-growing state in the Northeast despite the fact that it's actually losing residents to neighboring states. The population increase, according to MassLive, is due to a huge influx of international immigrants, who are more likely to flock to the state's urban centers, increasing the trend of urbanization in Massachusetts.

  • #46. Hawaii

    - 2010 rural population: 8.1% of state (88.4% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 23.5% (#7 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 69.3% (#24 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 18.2 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 93.9%

    Hawaii maintains a unique land-use doctrine that splits every inch of the entire state into one of four so-called district boundaries: conservation, agricultural, rural, and urban. A full 48% of the state is classified as conservation, 47% is agricultural, 5% is urban, and just a fraction of a percent is slated as rural. The federal census, however, is not bound by this framework and clearly lumps agricultural, conservation, and rural district boundaries together.

  • #45. Florida

    - 2010 rural population: 8.8% of state (87.5% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 26.1% (#11 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 70.9% (#21 highest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 35.9 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 86.2%

    Florida is gaining residents faster than all but a handful of states in the entire country, and the newcomers are moving to urban centers far more than rural outposts. In fact, a recent WalletHub study showed that 40 of the fastest-growing cities in America are in the Sunshine State. Orlando alone gains 1,000 new residents every week.

  • #44. Rhode Island

    - 2010 rural population: 9.3% of state (3.0% increase since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 13.6% (#2 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 9.0% (#0 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 154 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 61.3%

    Covering just over 1,000 square miles and claiming barely a million residents, tiny Rhode Island is geographically the smallest state in America. Although the state has actually become slightly more rural since 1910, it, like the rest of the country, has become dramatically less rural in the modern era starting in 1960. Today, according to the Rural Health Information Hub, there is not a single critical access hospital in rural Rhode Island, just four federally qualified health center sites, and not a single short-term hospital located outside of urbanized areas in the state.

  • #43. Utah

    - 2010 rural population: 9.4% of state (82.5% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 25.1% (#9 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 53.7% (#15 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 3.2 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 98.9%

    According to a report by Utah's Rural Planning Group, just four of Utah's 29 counties are slated as urban, 16 are classified as rural, and 9 are labeled as "transitional." By 2060, those transitional counties are expected to grow by 175% and the urban counties by 81%. Rural counties, on the other hand, are projected to grow by just 43%, further cementing the state's steady march toward urbanization.

  • #42. Arizona

    - 2010 rural population: 10.2% of state (85.2% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 25.5% (#10 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 69.0% (#23 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 5.8 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 98.1%

    According to the Arizona Republic, Arizona's Maricopa County grew faster than any other county in America in 2017. Although the desert state is almost entirely rural by land area, the trend toward urbanization is clear. Phoenix, which is in Maricopa County, recently overtook Philadelphia as the nation's fifth-most-populous city.

  • #41. Illinois

    - 2010 rural population: 11.5% of state (69.9% decrease since 1910)
    - 1960 rural population: 19.3% (#5 lowest among all states)
    - 1910 rural population: 38.3% (#6 lowest among all states)
    - Rural population density: 28.6 people / sq. mile
    - Rural land area: 92.9%

    According to a recent report from Illinois Public Media, American rural populations actually grew by a tiny margin for the first time in 2018, but only in scenic areas like the Rocky Mountains and in rural areas that are close and accessible to big cities. This growth rarely applies to Midwestern rural areas like those in non-Chicago-metro Illinois, which continue to hemorrhage residents, particularly young people. Residents of Illinois' sparsely populated rural outposts are much older than the general population, as seniors tend to age in place, which leads to fewer jobs and even fewer young people willing to stay put.

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