What is Difference Between Rural and urban?

The Main Difference Between Rural and urban is that The rural and urban encompass a set of attributes that are associated with a region, locality or community, among other types of human groups.

Among the attributes that are associated with the rural are that an area has low population density, develops economic activities linked to the primary sector, has large areas of land and green areas, and lacks government administrative centers.

Difference Between Rural and urban

In the case of the urban, this includes attributes such as the presence of a high population density, that the main economic activities are those of the industrial and services sector, and the existence of governmental administrative centers and physical infrastructure.

It should be noted that there is no single way to define rural and urban. The criteria used to delimit their attributes are variable. It is possible to find characteristics associated with urban in rural areas and vice versa.

Rural Urban
Definition It is a set of characteristics associated with a locality or region, such as low population density, the development of economic activities in the primary sector and the removal of government administrative centers. It is a set of characteristics linked to a locality or region, mainly the presence of a high population density, an industrial economy, and services, as well as government administrative centers.
  • It is associated with field or natural space.
  • It has a low population density.
  • The population is homogeneous.
  • Little or no presence of government administrative centers and financial centers.
  • The population’s income is lower than in urban areas.
  • Social relationships are more intimate and lasting.
  • Migratory flow is negative.
  • It is associated with the city and localities that have large buildings and an environmental organization created by humans.
  • It has a high population density.
  • Heterogeneous population
  • There is the presence of government administrative centers and financial centers.
  • The population has incomes higher than those of the rural space.
  • Social relationships are more impersonal and shorter.
  • Migratory movement is positive.
Most important economic sector Primary sector (agricultural or agricultural activity). Secondary sector (industrial and manufacturing) and tertiary sector (services).
Most used criteria in Latin America
  • Demographics: population generally less than 2500 inhabitants.
  • Administrative: populations that do not have administrative centers or are outside the district headwaters (or other locality with significant government presence).
  • Demographics: population generally over 2500 inhabitants.
  • Administrative: populations that are in headwaters or district capitals and/or have the presence of administrative centers.

What is rural?

The rural refers to a set of characteristics that are associated with a locality or region, such as having a low population density or a reduced community of inhabitants. In a rural area, the main economic activity revolves around work with the environment, particularly in the primary sector.

The word rural comes from the Latin ruralis , and refers to that which ‘comes or is from the countryside’, or to an ‘open space’ (of land).

In this sense, the rural has been identified by the presence of large spaces of land in which there are small human settlements. It is common for infrastructure to be of less capacity, when compared to large cities (urban centers). They are generally regions with communities where there is a low population density.

There is less proximity between neighborhoods and houses. The houses are single-family. In addition, agricultural production and agricultural activities predominate in rural areas.

Generally, rural and urban are spoken of as opposites. That is, the rural is defined as the non-urban and vice versa, according to a series of criteria that are associated with each one. However, nowadays rural spaces and lifestyles in these places have changed. Aspects such as the diversification of the type of jobs, development of sustainable tourism programs and other ways of generating income have been present in the rural world.

As a general rule, rural areas have the lowest income in a country. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), although poverty in rural regions in Latin America has declined since the 1980s, there is still a large gap between the income of urban and rural areas.

Rural characteristics

  • It implies the presence of agricultural activities or the primary sector.
  • It is related to the countryside, open spaces, large green areas, and vegetation.
  • Generally, the population of a rural area or community has incomes below the average per capita income of a country.
  • The population density and the number of inhabitants are low in relation to the national average of the country.
  • It is common that there are no major administrative centers of government.
  • There is little presence of physical infrastructure.
  • Migration has a negative flow (from rural space to the city).
  • Social relationships are closer and lasting (friendships, family and work relationships).

What is urban?

The urban refers to a set of characteristics that a locality or region has, as are a high population density, and economic activity related to the industrial sector and the services, and the presence of administrative centers and physical infrastructure (paved roads, aqueducts, electrical services, etc.).

The word urban comes from the Latin Urbanus, and refers to ‘what is related to the city’. Large cities are characterized by large buildings and high population density.

The physical infrastructure of the environment is an important criterion when qualifying something as urban. For example, in an urban region, there are buildings, residences, industry, and administrative centers, among others.

Transport and communication logistics also represents a widely used feature to define what is urban. The provision of transport services and their efficiency are used to compare urban and rural locations.

In an urban region, population density tends to be high. In countries like Mexico and Venezuela, populated localities or centers with more than 2,500 inhabitants are considered urban populations. This is a quantitative criterion to define which regions are urban (or rural).

The existence of administrative centers or that the communities are headwaters of a district are considered as criteria by different countries to define what is urban at the geographical or demographic level.

Another feature of the urban is that the most important activity in a region is linked to the industrial or services sector and not to the agricultural or agricultural sector.

In this case, it is considered that in an urban space most of the active population is dedicated to the industrial or services sector, and not to agricultural work.

Characteristics of the urban

  • The urban is identified with the city, being something that has been built and organized by human beings.
  • The population density is high (in relation to other populations of the same country) and this is the most used criterion to define which localities are urban in a country.
  • The population is heterogeneous.
  • There are buildings and physical infrastructure and services.
  • There is the presence of administrative centers.
  • The industrial and services sector are the most important and most of the active population works in these sectors.
  • Generally associated with a population, area or community with incomes higher than those of the inhabitants of the rural space.

The rural and the urban in Latin America

Each country uses slightly different criteria to define what is rural and urban. The main instrument used to determine which localities or populations are classified as rural or urban are national censuses, which are applied once every ten years in most countries.

In general, the majority of the population in Latin America lives in urban centers. The most used criterion to define what is rural and urban is the demographic, although it does not contemplate so much the population or demographic density, but rather the number of people that live in a given community. The next most used criterion is the administrative one.

These criteria follow quantitative and qualitative parameters. For example, the demographic criterion is quantitative. This is based on the number of inhabitants per square kilometer of a region, as well as the total number of inhabitants in a locality.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that a population density of more than 150 inhabitants per square kilometer is the minimum amount for a region to be considered urban.

qualitative criterion is functionality or economic activity that takes place in a region. For example, a characteristic of a region or rural area is that its main economic activity occurs in the primary sector (agriculture).

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the specialist in social and political studies, Sergio Faiguenbaum, some of the most used criteria to define rural and urban areas in Latin America are:

  • Demographic or population density and number of inhabitants per community (one of the most used criteria).
  • Function or economic/productive activity of a region and the type of employment (of the population of active age).
  • Services and physical infrastructure (streets, signage, basic services).
  • Spatial planning and geographical location.
  • Presence of administrative centers and their hierarchy.

In the following table, you can see some of the criteria used to define urban and rural in several Latin American countries and in Spain

Criterion Definition
Mexico and Venezuela Demographic Rural: locality with 2500 or fewer inhabitants.
Urban: locality with 2500 or more inhabitants.
Brazil Administrative Rural: a population that lives outside urban areas.
Urban: a population that lives within areas with the presence of municipality.
Chile Demographic and economic Rural: locality with less than 1000 inhabitants, or with less than 2000, where most of the active population is dedicated to the primary sector.
Urban: locality with more than 1000 inhabitants or between 1000 and 2000, with a population active mainly in the sectors of industry and services.
Spain Demographic Rural: locality with 10 thousand or fewer inhabitants.
Urban: locality with more than 10 thousand inhabitants.
Costa Rica Administrative and functional Rural: population outside the head of districts or cantons, where there are little infrastructure and services.
Urban: population in administrative centers, headwaters, etc., where there is the presence of infrastructure and services.

Rural and urban approaches

Different theoretical perspectives and even points of view, in general, define the attributes and criteria that each human space has. The dichotomous approach to the rural and urban proposes that both terms refer to opposite realities, where the rural is more backward or a previous step to the urban and modern.

Unlike this perspective, the focus on the rural-urban continuum proposes that the rural and the urban are part of a spectrum. It is not possible to establish a separation between the two, having only a gradual difference in the characteristics of each.

At the end of the 20th century, with the new rurality, the rural and the urban are no longer seen as opposites. The effects of capitalist development and technological and industrial advances allow the presence of attributes traditionally associated with the urban in rural spaces.]

Rural-urban dichotomous approach

The division of the rural-urban as opposites follows the line of thought of sociologists such as Karl Marx (1818-1883), Max Weber (1864-1920) and Émile Durkheim (1858-1917). This approach establishes a dichotomy of the rural and urban as if they were opposite points. That is, a locality is rural or urban, but not both at the same time.

Rural Urban
Economic activity
Primary sector (agricultural and raw material exploitation). Secondary sector (industrial, manufacturing) and tertiary sector (services, commerce).
Spatial context
Field and nature City.
Demography and population
Little dense, small and homogeneous community. Very dense, heterogeneous and larger community.
Stratification and social composition
Little stratification, simple society. A lot of stratification, a complex society.
Negative flow (rural to urban). Positive flow (receives people).
Other attributes
Late, slow, isolated, vulnerable to external factors, self-sufficiency (subsistence). Modern, dynamic, connected to the world, little vulnerable to external factors, dependent on raw materials.

Rural-urban continuum approach

This approach was developed by Pitlrim Sorokin (1889-1968) and Carle C. Zimmerman (1897-1983) in Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology ( Principles of rural-urban sociology ) in 1929.

This approach proposes that rural and urban are not opposites that are abruptly separated. For Sorokin and Zimmerman, rural and urban are integrated into a gradual continuum, with no defined separation points.

In any case, agriculture and work in the primary sector remain important in defining the rural.

Rural Urban
Economic activity
Primary sector (agriculture, exploitation of natural resources). Secondary sector (manufacturing and industry) and tertiary sector (services).
Spatial context
Nature and countryside City, with the presence of infrastructures created by the human being.
The small community, low density. Large community, high density.
Type of population and social stratification
A homogeneous, similar standard of living. Heterogeneous, greater social differences.
Migration and mobility
Negative migration flow (towards cities) and less movement. Positive migration flow (from rural areas) and greater movement.
Social interactions
Close and lasting relationships (friends, family, and work). More impersonal and short-term relationships (recognition by identification number).

New rurality approach

The new rurality is a perspective of the late twentieth century that proposes that the rural environment can acquire characteristics that have been traditionally associated with the urban, such as the diversification of the labor market and the introduction of industry and services in rural areas.

In this way, the new rurality defies traditional notions about the rural. This takes into account the points of integration between rural and urban in today’s world and the impact of capitalist development.

It suggests that the rural is not a previous step to the urban, nor less modern, but that the rural spaces are contemporary and differ according to each region.


  • The rural space diversifies its economic activities and not only depends on the primary sector.
  • The communities themselves are active in rural development.
  • Compare the rural with the rural, and rurality is not seen as a pre-urban stage.
  • The relationship with the environment is important.
  • There may be large exploitation of the soil caused by monocultures.
  • There are greater industrial investments and capital that comes from outside the region.
  • Family businesses have less weight.
  • There is the development of physical infrastructure and services.
  • The level of income continues to be lower than that of urban centers.
  • Greater interaction and integration between rural and urban spaces.

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