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American Rural Studies: Introduction

A guide to the history, culture, and socioeconomic issues facing the over 66 million Americans living in rural areas

Rural Studies

Welcome to the Rural Studies research guide! 

This guide contains an overview of American Rural Studies as well as a selection of relevant interdisciplinary resources

available through Fordham Libraries and beyond.

What Is Meant By "Rural"

  • As of the 2020 Decennial Census, over 66 million people, or approximately 19.8% of the population, lived in rural areas of the U.S. A change in the Census definition of an urban area actually increased the rural population of the U.S. by almost five million people.
  • The Census Bureau does not actually define "rural." Rural Areas include all geographic areas that are not classified as urban.
  • Rural used to mean that your area meets neither of the two following definitions of "urban"
    • "Urbanized Areas" have a population of 50,000 or more.
    • "Urban Clusters" have a population of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000
  • In the 2020 Census the differentiation between Urbanized Areas and Urban Clusters was abolished. The new definition of an "Urban Area" is:                                                                                                                                                       "an urban area will comprise a densely settled core of census blocks that meet the minimum housing unit density and/or population density requirements. This includes adjacent territory containing non-residential urban land uses. To qualify as an urban area, the territory identified must encompass at least 2,000 housing units or a population of at least 5,000.
  • According to the 2020 Census the most rural "county or county equivalent" in the U.S. is Yukon-Koyukuk in Central Alaska. At over 145,000 sq. miles, (approximately the same size as Germany), it has a 2020 population of only of 5,343 people. 
  • In 2020, Vermont (65%) and Maine (61%) have the highest percentage of people living in rural areas . California has the lowest percentage of people living in rural areas (approximately 6% of the total population).

Rural New York State

NOTE: 2020 Official Rural Census Data for New York State - NOW AVAILABLE!

  • New York State is significantly less rural than the national average. Even with a new definition of rural communities, that "expanded" the nation's rural population, New York State remains only 12.6% rural
  • Hamilton County (N.Y.) is the state's most rural county. The county is about the size of the State of Delaware, but in the 2020 U.S. Census, reported a population of only 5,107. It has one incorporated village (Speculator), with a population of 406, and only one town with a population greater than 1,000 (Indian Lake, population 1,363) - so the county is defined as 100% rural.
  • According to the SUNY Rockefeller Institute of Government, "rural" in New York State is defined (in 2019) as "counties that are not part of a metropolitan region and do not have a city of 10,000 residents."

Of New York State's 62 counties, 10 counties in Central, Northern, and Western New York State meet this definition: Allegany, Chenango, Delaware, Essex, Greene, Hamilton, Lewis, Schuyler, Sullivan and Wyoming.

NOTE: The SUNY Rockefeller Institute has not yet issued new guidelines for what New York State considers RURAL per the 2020 decennial U.S. Census. The 2019 map below is based on 2010 criteria.


Share of People Living in (NY) Rural Communities (2010)!


Reference Librarian

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Michael Rios
Lincoln Center Campus
The Gerald M. Quinn Library
Room 207