UNH study: Rural America grew slightly, prompted by migration during the pandemic
Rural America grew for the first time in a decade last year, according to new research from the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School, prompted by migration during the COVID-19 pandemic. And for the first time in 50 years, population growth in rural America exceeded growth in cities.
In a study of U.S Census estimates, researchers at the University of New Hampshire found that between April 2020 and July 2021, non-metropolitan counties in the U.S. gained population. This was in spite of a dramatic increase in deaths due to COVID-19, as well as a continued trend of declining birth rates in rural areas.
Cities, meanwhile, saw their migration and birth rates plummet over that same period.
The study confirms the scope of a phenomenon seen in New Hampshire and elsewhere over the past few years: As remote work spread, housing markets shifted, and the pandemic upended lives, Americans moved out of cities.
It’s unclear if this trend is continuing, but it temporarily reverses a decline seen from 2010 to 2020, when rural America lost population for the first time in recorded history. In the Northeast, that population loss occurred in 75% of rural counties.
In the 15 months after the 2020 Census, the study finds, the non-metropolitan population of the U.S. grew by 77,000 people.
This migration was concentrated to areas with retirement communities and recreational activities. Previous work by Kenneth Johnson, a UNH demographer and author of the study, shows that some of these areas were already seeing a population increase prior to the pandemic.
The full study, published in the journal Rural Sociology, can be found here.