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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Committee on National Statistics
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Workshop on Rationalizing Rural Area Classifications

Project Scope

An ad hoc committee organized a public workshop on data, estimation, and policy issues for rationalizing the multiple classifications of rural areas currently in use by the Economic Research Service (ERS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The workshop provided background on the origins, rationales, uses, underlying data, and methods for the four highly related but distinct geographic classification systems currently maintained by ERS to designate areas by the degree to which they are rural. Workshop sessions covered the criteria for a desirable classification going forward, including: consistency with OMB and Census Bureau definitions; utility in identifying socioeconomic/demographic variation as it is affected by size of place and degree of urban proximity; utility to stakeholders in delineating program eligibility; and such attributes as a reasonably small number of categories with analytic and “face” validity in terms of plausible breakpoints. Papers were commissioned based on a discussion at the workshop on the properties and pros and cons of alternative classification schemes. A workshop session also considered trade-offs given that no single classification system is likely to satisfy all requirements.

Committee Members

David L. Brown, Cornell University (Chair)
James Fitzsimmons, U.S. Census Bureau
Stephan Goetz, Pennsylvania State University
Mark Partridge, Ohio State University 
David Plane, University of Arizona
Brigitte Waldorf, Purdue University


April 16-17, 2015

The Keck Center
Room 201
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Download the agenda.

Workshop Commissioned Papers

Conceptualizing Rural Areas in Metropolitan Society: A Rural View
Michael Woods, Aberystwyth University, UK

Defining and Measuring Rurality in the U.S: From Typologies to Continuous Indices
Brigitte Waldorf and Ayoung Kim, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Evaluation of Rural Area Classifications Using Statistical Modeling
Stephan J. Goetz and Yicheol Han, Penn State University, Department of AESE, NERCRD and NARDeP

Evolving Spatial Analytics and Rural Area Classifications
Alan T. Murray, Drexel University, College of Computing and Informatics, Center for Spatial Analytics and Geocomputation

Historical Development of ERS Rural-Urban Classification Systems

John Cromartie, Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture

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