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The population trends of rural counties are linked to their economic profiles.3 As a group, the nation’s 391 rural farming counties – heavily concentrated in the Great Plains – have lost total population since 2000, while rural counties with other types of economies gained population. 

The total population of rural counties with recreation-based and government-based economies grew more since 2000 than the populations of other rural county types. One reason recreation-based counties grew was that they had a net gain of new residents who moved from other U.S counties, the only rural county type to have a gain in net domestic migration. An analysis by the Population Reference Bureau found that rural recreation-based counties were especially likely to have growing numbers of residents 65 and older, while rural farming-based counties were losing residents in that age group.

Among urban areas, the Midwest had the largest share of population-losing counties since 2000: 42% of urban counties in this region, including the ones that encompass Chicago (Cook County, Illinois), Detroit (Wayne County, Michigan), and Cleveland (Cuyahoga County, Ohio), lost population.

Among suburban and small metro counties, about a quarter of the ones in the Northeast and Midwest lost population since 2000, a higher share than in other regions. A majority of Northeast and Midwest suburban counties had a net gain of migrants, but that was mainly due to immigration. A majority had a net loss of residents to urban or rural U.S. counties during this period. 

Nationally and in each county type, the older adult population grew more sharply since 2000 than any other age group – young children, school-age children, young adults or middle-aged adults. In rural areas, the population younger than 18 declined during this period. As a result, in each county type, adults ages 65 and older now make up a larger share of the total population than in 2000.


As a group, rural counties skew older than suburban and urban counties: 18% of rural residents are 65 or older vs. 15% in suburban and small metro counties and 13% in cities.

Rural counties also have a smaller share of young adults than urban or suburban populations.

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