By rural, this topic refers to agrarian life outside the city—or “country life” as some phrase it. It must take into consideration that most of the world’s population was “rural” until recently.
According to the U.S. Census, urban areas of the U.S. contain almost 250 million people (some 80% of the population) while rural areas contain about 60 million, almost 20% of the population).
The world’s urban population is estimated to grow from about a quarter of a million in 1950 to over 6 billion by 2050, while its rural growth is much less, from almost 1.8 million in 1950 to over 3 million by 2050. (UN, Dept. Economics & Social Affairs: Population Division, retrieved online 2Sep14.)
According to population experts May 29, 2007 marked the time when the world’s “population became more urban than rural…as the global proportion of urban population rose from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005. By 2050 over 6 billion people, two thirds of humanity, will be living in towns or cities.” This article also reminds us that “urban and rural populations… rely heavily on each other.”
Cities refine and process rural goods for urban and rural consumers. But if either cities or rural areas had to sustain themselves without the other…few would bet on the cities (Gizmag, retrieved online 2Sep14).
The global movement from rural areas to cities has been explained in terms of “push and pull.” Subsistence farming becomes increasingly difficult if not impossible with sustained drought, deforestation and other severe problems. These problems “push” rural people away from failing farms and livestock. Need of medical attention and possibilities of education, employment—and possibly the “bright lights of the city”—provide “the pull.”
Kay Slama makes several important points about rural culture in the U.S. (“Rural Culture is a Diversity Issue,” Minnesota Psychologist, Jan. 2004: 8-13, retrieved online 2Sep14). Because many rural Americans come from other cultures, they “fall along a continuum of acculturation to mainstream culture.” Also important is the fact that there are degrees of “rurality.” Obviously, rural areas “are not homogeneous” and generalities must yield to local distinctions.
In her opinion, “though rural residents live in houses, go to jobs, socialize, eat, and sleep”—and have racial and ethnic differences like many of their urban counterparts—there are significant differences. Living in less populous areas, rural residents tend to be isolated from important public services. They are often subject to rural poverty—and thus less likely to have health insurance and critical savings.
Coming from the field of youth ministry, I saw its mission and target population assumed to be middle class suburban. In the 1960s, rather suddenly and to a limited extent, U.S. youth ministry discovered and began paying attention to urban youth—as social workers already had in the 1950s. Since then I have not recognized any great acknowledgement or calling to the needs and potential of rural youth, to the poor and migrant workers. It is difficult to raise interest and funding for such important people.
On another hand, there is an awakening of interest in rural living. Wendell Berry is a prominent poet and writer, a cultural critic, environmental activist and farmer. He and his writings have inspired some urbanites and suburbanites to make their way back to farm life and local markets.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Do you consider yourself rural, or do you come from a rural background?
Is there any sense in asking if we see ourselves as urban, suburban, or rural? What difference does it make?
Were you aware of the changing nature of global population and culture—moving from rural to urban? How do you understand and reflect on such a change?
What difficulties may rural residents face as they struggle to stay in rural home areas?
What difficulties do those who leave rural poverty face when they come into urban or suburban communities and schools?
What importance do rural residents hold for the rest of us, and what do we miss when they and their stories are unrecognized?
Differences and separations among people produce ignorance and tensions that must be intentionally overcome.
Rural life has much to teach us. We have all come from the land, and it may be very important for us to return to it—at least for a time. I remember Black youth workers in Harlem telling us that their youth, raised in the ghetto, needed to get back to the land to reap the benefits of agricultural and animal therapy to offset their post-traumatic life experiences.
We can only learn the lessons of rural life from rural residents. In sharing of work and telling of stories, we all have much to learn.
People of faith realize their need to be profitably immersed in God’s creation—to, in some sense, get back to the Garden.