What We Know About Moving to Rural Communities

Five years of survey research, focus groups and face-to-face interviews conducted in three states over the course of two research projects have provided what we think is a fairly accurate understanding of the motivations and decision making process involved in moving to a rural community. It is not, in general, an easy decision for most people and not one that is made on a whim. Moving, after all, is stressful for individuals and families. It is also very costly, both in terms of time and money.

What follows is a brief summary of what we have learned during the course of our research. Specific details can be found in other sections of this site.

New Residents Add Resources to Rural Communities

It is well understood that younger people are those most likely to move in our society. For that reason, new residents tend to be younger than the average resident of the communities that they move to. For that reason, they tend to be better educated and possess up-to-date work skills. They are also more likely to have children in their household.

Jobs Matter - But Aren't the Only Factor

As one would assume, the availability of employment is a critical factor in the decision to move to a new location.  However, it is not the only motivation. A substantial number of new residents who reported to us in both of our research studies indicated that a job was in many ways an opportunity factor that allowed them to locate in a community where they believed they would find an improved quality of life. In fact, it was common for new residents to tell us that they had several options for employment in several communities. Many of them reported that their final decision was based more on what they saw as desirable attributes of the community than on the specifics of employment.

Many, but not All New Residents Have Had Previous Experience in the Area

New residents in rural communities tell us that they learn about their selected location in many ways. About half will have had some previous experience with the community. While it varies from place to place, many will have been previous residents of at least the area if not the community itself. Those who still maintain kinship or friendship ties to the area tend to find those connections to be attractive.

For others, an introduction to their new homes may have come from a tourist experience of from business travel.  Still others become aware of their eventual new home through some third-party or informational resource before they ever actually visit it.

The Majority of New Residents Arrive from Metropolitan Areas

This finding is hardly surprising, since the majority of Americans reside in Metropolitan areas. What is interesting about new residents arriving from Metropolitan areas is that they are more likely than are new residents arriving from other rural areas to emphasize quality of life considerations ahead of jobs when describing their motivations for moving.

New Residents are Seeking Specific "Rural" Amenities

New residents in rural communities emphasize the importance of multiple quality of life considerations that they hold to be readily available simply because the location is rural. Among these are a "simpler pace of life," safety, environmental quality, outdoor recreational opportunities and a pro-family culture.

Perhaps less predictably, new residents also emphasize the importance of a shared community vision for the future and available opportunities to participate in achieving that vision.

New Residents Have Options When Choosing a Community

New residents tend to have had options for employment in multiple locations. Certainly, those who move specifically for reasons related to kinship may find those options limited by where their families already reside. However, for most others the selection of a new community involves selecting from among several locations that will support their job skills.

New Residents Often Engage in Research before Selecting a Community

Because several communities may meet the job requirements of people seeking rural amenities, they often have the luxury of shopping for the location that best fits their lifestyle expectations. In making that selection they will of course be attentive to places where they have had previous experience as residents or visitors. However, they generally go beyond that and will look for descriptive materials in print or other media. Today, over 60% of new residents in rural communities use the Internet in their research and many actually locate their eventual new home through that medium.

Attracting New Residents is NOT the Same as Keeping Them

The experience of moving to a rural community is not always positive. Up to 40-percent of new residents indicate that they may not stay. For some, this can be traced back to their employment. However, the most common reason for uncertainty about remaining in their new home is a feeling of "not fitting in." Essentially this means that the new arrival's expectations regarding the social and cultural characteristics were not met.

Communities CAN be Marketed to Potential New Residents

What we have learned about new arrivals in rural communities suggests that current residents can take an active role in both recruiting and retaining those newcomers and that doing so will be rewarding for both new and long-time residents.