The paper approaches the question of the role of the three different sectors in rural population development. A regression with data from 1606 rural Swiss municipalities shows that activity in the farming sector enhances population growth to a greater degree than activity in the industrial sector. Employment in the service sector was not found to sustain population growth in rural municipalities, whereas commuting possibilities had a strongly stabilising impact. Other important determinants were wealth, the number of holiday homes and demographic factors. A qualitative study of four rural municipalities largely confirmed the findings of the regression, but also showed the importance of non-economic factors influencing the relative attractiveness of a rural municipality.