Number of Rural Veterans Declines
Historically, rural residents have been a bit more likely to serve in the armed forces than people who live in big cities. The trend is still true, but the number and proportion of rural veterans is shrinking.
Veterans are still more likely than the average American to live in rural areas. But the proportion of veterans who are rural is dropping, as older generations die and younger generations are more likely than their predecessors to live in larger cities.
In 2014, 17.5 percent of veterans lived in rural areas, 1.8 percentage points higher than the national proportion of 14.7, according to the analysis by the USDA Economic Research Service.
But the percentage of veterans who live in rural areas dropped from 2007 to 2014, the report said. The trend was especially strong among the oldest and youngest veterans.
Of World War II veterans, 20.2 percent were rural in 2007. By 2014, that percentage dropped to 16.8, either from death (“natural decrease”) or relocation to an urban area. During the period, the number of WWII vets living in rural areas fell by about 400,000.
Nationally, about 1.6 million WWII veterans died from 2007 to 2014, according to a report published by the World War 2 Memorial in New Orleans. Most of the living WWII vets are in their 90s now, according to the report. Only 700,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in the war are still living.
The proportion of Korea veterans who live in rural areas saw a similar decline, dropping from 21.4 percent of all veterans in 2007 to 18.8 percent in 2014.
But the decline in the percentage of rural veterans isn’t just about aging populations. It’s also about where younger veterans live. Although about 100,000 veterans of the second Gulf War located in rural America 2007 to 2014, an even larger proportion of vets settled in metropolitan counties when they got out of the service. During the seven-year period, the percentage of Second Gulf War veterans who live in rural areas declined from 16.2 of all veterans of that war to 13.4 percent.
Overall, there were 3.4 million veterans living in rural counties in 2014, down from 4.5 million in 2007.
Where Veterans Live
This maps shows the percentage of a county’s residents who are veterans. Darker colors are higher percentages. Click on counties to see local-level data.