The return of young families to rural counties is a bright spot in rural population trends.
If you ask a room full of rural advocates about their most pressing problems, high on the list you’re likely to find concerns about the number of young people who leave home.
Whether it’s by preference or necessity, rural residents who are aged 20-24 have the highest rate of migration from rural areas, according to this chart from the Economic Research Service.
The rural migration patterns are shown in the blue line, the metropolitan ones in green.
The 20s are a time of relocation for many younger people, not just in rural areas but in urban ones as well. But the net change in migration is more pronounced for rural young people.
That’s the negative side.
The positive side is that in their early 30s, there’s big jump in the net migration in rural areas.
A report from the Economic Research Service of USDA theorizes that this jump comes from people who are just starting to settle down, find a spouse, and raise a family.
And one reason they are returning is because they consider their home counties to be good places to raise kids:
Interviews with rural return migrants showed that most came home with spouses and brought young children with them or soon started families. Conversations about returning centered on the value of family connections for child-raising in a small town environment. Return migrants described other aspects of home that bolstered their decision to move back, including schools with smaller class sizes, access to outdoor recreation, and shorter trips for work and shopping.
The ERS report says this information has implications for how communities attempt to retain or attract young people.
Stemming rural population loss may depend less on retaining young adults after high school than on attracting them back as they settle down to start careers and raise children.
This discussion is significant for rural counties, which have seen a net decline in overall population for each of the past four years – an unprecedented span. Reversing that decline is the fond hope of many a rural community. This study shows that the most opportune moment to encourage this return to smaller towns and rural areas is when young people most need their extended family a supportive community — when they start having kids.