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Abstract

Several definitions of "rural" are available for national and provincial analysis using the databases at Statistics Canada. We compare six in this paper. Each definition emphasizes different criteria (population size, density, context) and has different associated thresholds. The size of the territorial units (building blocks) from which each definition is constructed also varies. As a result, an analyst's choice of "rural" definition matters. Different definitions generate a different number of "rural" people. Even if the number of "rural" people is the same, different people will be classified as "rural" within each definition. In general, each definition provides a similar analytical conclusion (e.g., rural people have lower employment rates and lower incomes than the Canadian average) but the level of each characteristic differs for each definition of rural. We recommend, therefore, that analysts consider the scale of a "rural" issue - whether it is local, community or regional - before selecting a definition. This will influence the type of territorial unit upon which to focus the analysis and the appropriate definition to use. We also encourage analysts to consider which geographic dimensions are most relevant to the issue at hand - population size, population density, labour market or settlement context - and then choose a definition that incorporates these dimensions. Rather than using one of the existing definitions, one option available to the analyst is to assign one (or more) "degrees of rurality" to each territorial unit. This may be specific to a policy debate or sub-national issue. Another option is to cross-classify two definitions of rural in order to focus on a specific sub-sector of the rural population.

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