Rural and urban

The rural and the urban encompass a set of attributes that are associated with a region, locality or community, among other types of human groupings.

Among the attributes associated with rural areas are the fact that an area has a low demographic density , develops economic activities linked to the primary sector , has large areas of land and green areas, and lacks government administrative centers.

In the case of urban areas, this encompasses attributes such as the presence of a high demographic density, that the main economic activities are those of the industrial and service sectors, and the existence of government administrative centers and physical infrastructure.

It should be noted that there is no single way to define the rural and the urban. The criteria used to delimit its attributes are variable. It is possible to find characteristics associated with the urban in rural areas and vice versa.

DefinitionIt is a set of characteristics associated with a locality or region, such as low demographic density, the development of economic activities in the primary sector and the distance from government administrative centers.It is a set of characteristics linked to a locality or region, mainly the presence of a high demographic density, an industrial and service economy, as well as government administrative centers.
  • It is associated with the field or natural space.
  • It has a low population density.
  • Population is homogeneous.
  • Little or no presence of government administrative centers and financial centers.
  • The income of the population is lower than in urban areas.
  • Social relationships are more intimate and lasting.
  • Migratory flow is negative.
  • It is associated with the city and localities that have large buildings and an environmental organization created by humans.
  • It has a high population density.
  • Heterogeneous population.
  • There is presence of governmental administrative centers and financial centers.
  • The population has an income higher than that of the rural area.
  • Social relationships are more impersonal and of shorter duration.
  • Migratory movement is positive.
Most important economic sectorPrimary sector (agricultural or agricultural activity).Secondary sector (industrial and manufacturing) and tertiary sector (services).
Criteria most used in Latin America
  • Demographic : population generally less than 2,500 inhabitants.
  • Administrative : populations that do not have administrative centers or are outside the district capitals (or another locality with a significant government presence).
  • Demographic : population generally over 2,500 inhabitants.
  • Administrative : populations that are in district capitals or capitals and / or have the presence of administrative centers.

What is rural?

What rural it refers to a set of characteristics that are associated with a locality or region as it is to have a low population density or a small community of inhabitants. In a rural area, the main economic activity revolves around working with the environment, particularly in the primary sector .

The word rural comes from the Latin ruralis , and refers to that which ‘comes from or is from the field’, or to an ‘open space’ (of land).

In this sense, the rural has been identified by the presence of large areas of land in which there are small human settlements. It is common for infrastructure to be of lower capacity, when compared to large cities (urban centers). They are generally regions with communities in which there is a low population density.

There is less proximity between neighborhoods and houses. The houses are single-family. In addition, agricultural production and agricultural activities predominate in rural areas.

Generally, rural and urban are spoken of as opposites. That is, the rural is defined as the non-urban and vice versa, according to a series of criteria that are associated with each one. However, nowadays the rural spaces and the lifestyle in these places has changed. Aspects such as diversification of the type of jobs, development of sustainable tourism programs and other ways of generating income have been present in the rural world.

As a general rule, rural areas are those with the lowest income in a country. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), although poverty in rural regions in Latin America has decreased since the 1980s, there is still a large gap between income of urban and rural areas.

Characteristics of the rural

  • It implies the presence of agricultural activities or the primary sector.
  • It is related to the field, open spaces, large green areas and vegetation.
  • Generally, the population of a rural area or community has an income below the average per capita income of a country.
  • The population density and the number of inhabitants is low in relation to the national average of the country.
  • It is common that there are no high-ranking administrative centers of government.
  • There is little presence of physical infrastructure.
  • Migration has a negative flow (from the rural space to the city).
  • Social relationships are closer and more durable (friends, family and work relationships).

What is urban?

The urban refers to a set of characteristics that a locality or region possesses, such as a high demographic density , an economic activity linked to the industrial and services sectors , as well as the presence of administrative centers and physical infrastructure (paving, aqueducts, electrical services, etc.).

The word urban comes from the Latin urbanus , and refers to ‘what is related to the city’. Large cities are characterized by large buildings and a high population density.

The physical infrastructure of the environment is an important criterion when classifying something as urban. For example, in an urban region there are buildings, residences, industry and administrative centers, among others.

Transport and communication logistics also represent a feature widely used to define what is urban. The provision of transport services and their efficiency are used to compare urban and rural locations.

In an urban region, population density tends to be high. In countries like Mexico and Venezuela, towns or populated centers with more than 2,500 inhabitants are considered urban populations. This is a quantitative criterion to define which regions are urban (or rural).

The existence of administrative centers or that the communities are the head of a district are considered as criteria by different countries to define what is urban at a geographical or demographic level.

Another feature of the urban is that the most important activity in a region is linked to the industrial or service sector and not to the agricultural or agricultural sector.

In this case, it is considered that in an urban space most of the active population is dedicated to the industrial or service sector, and not to agricultural work.

Characteristics of the urban

  • The urban is identified with the city, being something that has been built and organized by human beings.
  • The population density is high (in relation to other populations in the same country) and this is the most used criterion to define which localities are urban in a country.
  • The population is heterogeneous.
  • There are buildings and physical infrastructure and services.
  • There is presence of administrative centers.
  • The industrial and service sectors are the most important and most of the workforce works in these sectors.
  • Generally associated with a population, area or community with an income higher than that of the inhabitants of the rural area.

Learn more about the Difference between rural and urban population .

The rural and the urban in Latin America

Each country uses slightly different criteria to define what is rural and what is urban. The main instrument used to determine which localities or populations are classified as rural or urban are the national censuses, which are applied once every ten years in most countries.

In general, the majority of the population in Latin America lives in urban centers. The most widely used criterion to define what is rural and urban is demographic , although it does not consider so much population or demographic density, but rather the number of people who live in a given community. The next most widely used criterion is administrative .

These criteria follow quantitative and qualitative parameters. For example, the demographic criterion is quantitative . This is based on the number of inhabitants per square kilometer of a region, as well as the total number of inhabitants in a locality.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) establishes that a population density of more than 150 inhabitants per square kilometer is the minimum amount for a region to be considered urban.

qualitative criterion is the functionality or economic activity that takes place in a region. For example, a characteristic of a region or rural area is that its main economic activity occurs in the primary sector (agriculture).

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the specialist in social and political studies, Sergio Faiguenbaum, some of the criteria most used to define rural and urban in Latin America are:

  • Demographic or population density and number of inhabitants per community (one of the most used criteria).
  • Function or economic / productive activity of a region and the type of employment (of the working-age population).
  • Services and physical infrastructure (streets, signage, basic services).
  • Spatial ordering and geographic location.
  • Presence of administrative centers and their hierarchy.

The following table shows some of the criteria used to define urban and rural in several Latin American countries and in Spain

Mexico and VenezuelaDemographicRural : town with 2,500 or fewer inhabitants.
Urban : town with 2,500 or more inhabitants.
BrazilAdministrativeRural : population living outside urban areas.
Urban : population that lives within areas with the presence of a municipality.
ChileDemographic and economicRural : town with less than 1,000 inhabitants, or less than 2,000, where the majority of the active population is dedicated to the primary sector.
Urban : town with more than 1000 inhabitants or between 1000 and 2000, with a population that is mainly active in the industrial and service sectors.
SpainDemographicRural : town with 10,000 or fewer inhabitants.
Urban : town with more than 10,000 inhabitants.
Costa RicaAdministrative and functionalRural : population outside the head of districts or cantons, where there is little infrastructure and services.
Urban : population in administrative centers, canton capitals, etc., where there is a presence of infrastructure and services.

Know the Difference between rural and urban areas .

Approaches to rural and urban

Different theoretical perspectives, and even points of view in general, delimit the attributes and criteria that each human space has. The dichotomous approach to rural and urban proposes that both terms refer to opposite realities , where rural is more backward or a step prior to urban and modern.

Unlike this perspective, the focus on the rural-urban continuum proposes that the rural and the urban are part of a spectrum. It is not possible to establish a separation between the two, with only a gradual difference in the characteristics of each one.

At the end of the 20th century, with the new rurality , the rural and the urban were no longer seen as opposites . The effects of capitalist development and technological and industrial advances allow the presence of attributes traditionally associated with the urban in rural spaces.

Rural-urban dichotomous approach

The division of the rural-urban as opposites follows the line of thought of sociologists such as Karl Marx (1818-1883), Max Weber (1864-1920) and Émile Durkheim (1858-1917). This approach establishes a dichotomy of the rural and the urban as if they were opposing points. In other words, a locality is rural or urban, but not both at the same time.

Economic activity
Primary sector (agricultural and raw material exploitation).Secondary sector (industrial, manufacturing) and tertiary sector (services, commerce).
Spatial context
Countryside and nature.Town.
Demographics and population
Sparse, small and homogeneous community.Very dense, heterogeneous and larger community.
Stratification and social composition
Little stratification, simple society.Much stratification, complex society.
Negative flow (rural to urban).Positive flow (receives people).
Other attributes
Backward, slow, isolated, vulnerable to external factors, self-sufficiency (subsistence).Modern, dynamic, connected to the world, little vulnerable to external factors, dependent on raw materials.

Rural-urban continuum approach

This approach was developed by Pitlrim Sorokin (1889-1968) and Carle C. Zimmerman (1897-1983) in Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology ( Principles of rural-urban sociology ) in 1929.

This approach proposes that the rural and the urban are not opposites that separate abruptly. For Sorokin and Zimmerman, the rural and the urban are integrated in a gradual continuum, without definite points of separation.

In any case, agriculture and work in the primary sector continue to be important in defining what is rural.

Economic activity
Primary sector (agriculture, exploitation of natural resources).Secondary sector (manufacturing and industry) and tertiary sector (services).
Spatial context
Nature and countryside.City, with the presence of infrastructures created by the human being.
Small community, low density.Large community, high density.
Type of population and social stratification
Homogeneous, similar standard of living.Heterogeneous, greater social differences.
Migration and mobility
Negative migratory flow (towards cities) and less movement.Positive migratory flow (from rural areas) and greater movement.
Social interactions
Close and lasting relationships (friends, family and work).More impersonal and short-lived relationships (recognition by identification number).

Approach to the new rurality

The new rurality is a perspective from the end of the 20th century that proposes that the rural environment can acquire characteristics that have been traditionally associated with the urban, such as the diversification of the labor market and the introduction of industry and services in rural areas.

In this way, the new rurality challenges traditional notions about the rural. This takes into account the points of integration between rural and urban in today’s world and the impact of capitalist development.

It suggests that the rural is not a previous step to the urban, nor less modern, but that rural spaces are contemporary and differ according to each region.

Characteristics of the new rurality

  • The rural space diversifies its economic activities and not only depends on the primary sector.
  • The communities themselves are active in rural development.
  • Compare the rural with the rural, and rurality is not seen as a stage prior to the urban.
  • The relationship with the environment is important.
  • There may be a great exploitation of the soil caused by monocultures.
  • There are greater industrial investments and capital that comes from outside the region.
  • Family businesses have less weight.
  • There is development of physical infrastructure and services.
  • The income level continues to be lower than that of urban centers.
  • Greater interaction and integration between rural and urban spaces.

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