Though Rural Britain Generally Earns More, Rural Youth Earn Less

In a reverse of the U.S. pattern, Britain’s rural residents earn more on average than city dwellers. But the trend hides weaknesses in the rural economy that are especially difficult for rural young people, who have fewer work options.

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Young people who grow up in rural Britain are likely to earn less than their urban counterparts, even if they later move to the city to pursue their careers, new research says.

“In 2008/9, the net take-home pay for those [young people] living in rural areas was around £900 (about $1,300 U.S. at the time) less a year than those living in towns and cities,” the report said.

“Even when people who grew up in rural areas later began working in towns and cities, the net take-home pay for full-time workers stayed less than for those who had grown up in urban areas”

The study by Martin Culliney, Ph.D., of Sheffield University is the first to compare the earnings of British young people who remained in rural areas versus those who were born in rural areas but moved to urban communities. The study also looked at the earnings of urban young people who subsequently moved to rural areas.

Culliney tracked about 1,600 young people from 1991 to 2009. The participants were 15 to 24 years old when the study started and up to 42 years old when it ended.

Relative income levels of rural Britain are different from those of the United States. “In Britain rural districts tend to be more affluent overall,” Culliney wrote in an email to the Daily Yonder. The opposite is true in the United States. In 2012, the U.S. rural median household income of about $41,200 was 22 percent lower than the urban median household income.

But rural Britain’s higher earnings don’t necessarily mean the rural economy is stronger. The extra income is from “money earned elsewhere” by commuters and second-home owners, who make their money elsewhere, and retirees who are living off savings and investments. Britain’s development patterns – with rural districts generally lying closer to urban areas than they do in the U.S. – make commuting and second-home ownership more common, he said.

But incomes start to fall when you look only at rural residents who also work in rural areas, the study showed. That affects rural young people disproportionately, because they are more likely to lack transportation and higher-level job skills, Culliney hypothesized. So they work local jobs that pay less and offer fewer opportunities for promotion.


The study found the following:

  • “The lowest paid group … were respondents originating in rural areas and remaining rural throughout.”
  • “Second, ‘urban-to-rural’ movers also enjoyed higher earnings than the ‘stay rural’ group, suggesting that rural residential location itself was not associated with a pay penalty.”

The study cautioned against forming simple conclusions. It said policy makers who advocate moving rural youth to cities are over-simplifying the problem.

“The relationship between location, migration, cultural capital, social capital and the labor market is not straightforward,” he wrote. Under some circumstances, rural young people might be able to find higher-paying jobs if they gain experience, training, or transportation options.

“People moving back to rural areas after spells as urban residents may enjoy returns on human capital acquired while living or working in larger [urban areas]. They may also be able to commute or work from home, escaping the [local] labor market with its predominantly low-pay, low-skill and insecure work.”


Topics: Economy

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