A “brain gain” in rural America?

A rural sociologist argues that rural America is experiencing a “brain gain” of young adults:

Hjartarson is among what University of Minnesota Rural Sociologist Ben Winchester coins the “Brain Gain,” in rural America.

“Discussions about the future of rural communities can have a negative tone, but this isn’t your grandfather’s rural,” Winchester said. “You look at the numbers and you can see the rural narrative is being rewritten.”…

However, the actual number of people living in rural areas in the United States increased between 1970 and 2010 from 53.5 million to 59.5 million. Urban areas grew, too, but at a rate faster than rural areas, resulting in a proportional decline of the population living rural.

“When it comes to 30- to 40-year-olds, one in five live in a rural area today,” Winchester said. “There is a growth in rural areas among the 30- to 35-year-old cohort, an age when a lot of people are re-examining their lives and looking for low density living. That’s also the cohort we are seeing decreasing in numbers in many metro areas.”…

“When it comes to the reasons 30- to 40-year-olds say they want to move to a rural area, jobs isn’t even in the top 10,” Winchester said. “Quality of life is No. 1. Others are a slower pace, lower cost of housing, and safety and security. Many of these people are creating their own jobs.”

Sounds interesting but we would have to see more data to tease this out. If the rural population increased 6 million between 1970 and 2010, how much of this was due to birth rates in these areas versus new residents moving in? How does the rural population growth rate compare to that of cities and suburbs? That to me is the real comparison: how do rural areas stack up against the dominant place of living for Americans: the suburbs.

Also, it sounds like this could be a class issue based on the quality of life issues pushing people toward rural areas. Who exactly are the 30-40-year-olds moving to rural areas? Would it be safe to guess that they are generally well educated and have the abilities and training for creating their own jobs?

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