Although the definition of a rural area varies by region and their ingrained economic concepts, a rural area, in its simplest connotation, can be defined as a geographical region located outside of towns or urban centers. Small settlements and farms scattered over large tracts of mostly agricultural land and forests characterize rural settings. The rural population, on the other hand, refers to the number of people dwelling in these rural regions. As a percentage, the rural population is the difference between the total population and the urban population expressed as a proportion of the total population.
Global population trends have been changing over time, with the urban population growing at a higher rate than that of the rural areas. Indeed, current estimations show that 54% of the world’s population live in urban areas, up from only 30% in 1950. Importantly, this proportion will rise dramatically further yet still as certain countries with low levels of development become increasingly urbanized. We look at some of these countries with high relative rural populations, and some of the factors that contribute to their deviation from settlement norms typical of the 21st Century.
Rural Countries and Regions of the World
Statistical trends show that majority of the countries boasting of the highest number of people residing in the rural areas are found in Africa and Asia. Within Africa, the numbers rise to even higher proportions in the sub-Saharan Africa countries. For example, in Burundi and Uganda, 88.24% and 84.23% of the people reside in the rural districts. Likewise, in Asia, the numbers increase as one enters East and South-East Asian countries, such as Nepal, where 81.76% of Nepalese inhabitants occupy rural zones. Another category of countries found to have a high incidence of their peoples residing in rural areas are in the Oceania region of the South Pacific to the southeast of Asia. Here, we find Samoa and the Solomon Islands with 80.74% and 78.12% of the population inhabiting rural areas, respectively. One seemingly odd entrant in our list of the top twenty countries with the highest number of people living in the rural areas is the European country of Liechtenstein, the only nation listed from that continent. Across thousands of miles and the Atlantic, with 91.45% of its population dwelling in rural areas, Trinidad and Tobago is also a surprise, considering the country is the wealthiest in the Caribbean region, and ranked world’s 40th highest income country.
Factors Contributing to High Rural Populations
From our analysis of these statistical trends, we have seen that the majority of the populations of the countries with developing economies are occupants of rural areas. This is by no accident, and this phenomenon can be attributed to a number of factors. Firstly, rural-urban migration in developed countries was catalyzed mostly by industrialization, a good deal of which took place more than a century ago across much of Western Europe and North America. The majority of developing countries are still yet to be fully penetrated by the reaches of industrialization, and others are only newly being defined as industrialized. Nonetheless, many countries on our list are rapidly moving towards industrialization and urbanization. In point of fact, the highest rates of rural-urban migration at the present time are taking place in developing countries of Africa and Asia, and these continents’ urban populations are projected to surpass the 50% mark by the year 2050. Another important factor contributing to relatively high proportions of rurality in developing countries stems from their typically high rate of population growth, wherein with rural areas birth rates are generally much higher than those seen in urban areas, enhancing disparities in rural-urban population differences. This occurrence can be largely attributed to lower social statuses and maternal expectations for rural women, and high illiteracy levels among rural dwellers of developing countries, which often leads to a subsequent lack of knowledge as far as birth control is concerned. In addition, an average of 75% of the populations of the developing countries work in agriculture, which serves as a relatively stable source of employment and income. Accordingly, the large portions of the populations in developing countries may choose to live in rural areas for occupational reasons.
Future Shifts in Rural Population Distribution
It is plain to see that level of economic development is the strongest determinant of population distribution between a country’s rural and urban areas. It is therefore expected that as developing countries continue to industrialize, rural areas will continue to lose population to urban areas. Consequently, there is a dire need for developing countries to establish a sound urban spatial strategy to effectively deal with the inevitable urban sprawl and infrastructural strains that come with mass rural to urban migrations.