Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Series: Wisconsin's Rural-Urban Continuum

Most Wisconsinites live in urban and suburban communities, but the state’s landscape is dominated by rural areas where farmland and forest predominate. But what makes a given place rural? What about small towns or exurbs or "up north" tourist destinations? And when is a place even considered small in the first place? Defining the continuum between rural and urban areas is complex and can be a contentious matter. It is also continuously in flux as people grow older, have children and move between places in pursuit of different opportunities. The demographics of rural Wisconsin are changing rapidly, with populations aging and overall numbers decreasing in many areas. These shifts have profound implications for the state as a whole, and will shape its economy, politics and culture.
 
There is increasing interest in understanding rural issues in the United States. Malia Jones of the UW Applied Population Laboratory discusses the variety of ways "rural" can be defined, related to the economy, land use, access to services and other factors.
While differences between rural and urban parts of the U.S. may be vast in many places, drawing those geographic distinctions is not always simple.
Political narratives in the United States often rely on the ideas of "rural" and "urban" as distinct and diametrically opposed places in conflict.
Rural America and the issues faced by people who live in rural places are at the center of the national conversation. But once you go outside of our major cities, exactly what places are considered rural?
They're older and aging faster, and persistently whiter than Wisconsin as a whole. More people are moving out than in. In some, deaths are already eclipsing births.
Since the Great Recession, more people have been migrating out of Wisconsin than moving into the state — a pattern contrary to Minnesota and Iowa.