Why are many Americans moving from the city to the country?

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way Americans live and work. As more people adapt to working from home, they are also reconsidering where that home should be. It is not a coincidence that rural communities like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Billings, Montana; and Rapid City, South Dakota are the hottest new places to live in 2021.

Understanding the Rural America Migration

To understand why people are moving to rural parts of the country, Paulsen, a marketing and research firm, partnered with Audience Audit Inc. to field a quantitative, attitudinal segmentation study.

The study examined the attitudes of 326 Americans who met one of two very specific criteria. The respondents had to be A) city dwellers who have moved to a rural area in 2020 or 2021 or B) city dwellers who are considering a rural move in the near future.

Attitudinal Segments

The study revealed three distinct segments among recent rural residents and city dwellers considering a rural move. To clarify, these segments are defined by their shared and connected attitudes, not necessarily where they currently live.

Ruralists: 26% of respondents

Ruralists are enamored with rural living. They believe rural areas are more beautiful than cities, that a rural lifestyle is healthier and that living in a rural area gives you the opportunity to have a greater impact on your community.

These respondents believe that Americans living in rural locations are more friendly, more honest, more self-reliant, more innovative and more environmentally conscious than city dwellers.

They also say rural Americans are more invested in their communities and more likely to work together to solve problems.

Urbanists: 41% of respondents

Urbanists are firm city-lovers. They love the hustle and bustle of big cities and believe that the best opportunities for self-sufficiency exist in cities. They say they need to live near excellent schools and a major airport.

At the same time, they hold some negative attitudes about rural Americans. They feel rural residents are less connected to the rest of the world, and that they want to go back to a previous way of life instead of embracing the future. They overwhelmingly feel that the lives of rural Americans are more like living in 1950 than living in today’s world.

Space Seekers: 33% of participants

Space Seekers are defined by only three strongly-held attitudes: They want more indoor space, more outdoor space and more peace and quiet where they live.

This group is the least likely to want to live in a rural area, but also disagree with the attitudes that define the Urbanists. They are least likely of all the groups to be happy where they currently live. Their motivation isn’t about where they’re going, it’s about how much space they’ll have when they get there.

Respondents Who are Considering a Rural Move—Reasons for Moving

The majority of urban residents considering a rural move say they are driven by an interest in having more land or space around their home (71%), having fewer people around (67%), getting more home for less money (62%) and living in a safer environment (58%).

Other factors such as a lower cost of living, avoiding traffic and living in an area with a different culture were also identified as a reason for moving.

Urbanists are statistically more likely to say that an entrepreneurial vision or business idea is a motivator and that they want to be part of economic growth in rural America.

The top concerns are the availability of wifi (37%), employment opportunities (37%), access to shopping and retail locations (37%) and isolation (32%).

A whopping 68% of urban respondents say they’d “Definitely” consider changing jobs or employers to move to a rural area, and 20% say they probably would.

Respondents Who Recently Moved to a Rural Location—Reasons for Moving

Those who have already moved to a rural area are most likely to cite interest in a safer environment as a reason for their move (57%). Many also reference getting more home for less money (51%), living where there is cleaner air and water (49%) and having a bigger home (47%).

Only 15% mentioned climate-related concerns or wanting to be part of economic growth in rural America. Only 6% mentioned an entrepreneurial vision or business idea that would be better served in a rural area.

Ruralists are far more likely to cite a safer environment (83%) and having fewer people around (52%) influencing their move.

COVID-19 Impact

In exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on decisions to move to a rural location, 67% of respondents say their organization changed policies about where employees can work due to COVID-19, and 52% of those planning a rural move say that these policies made them more interested in moving to a rural area.

Key Insights

The recent Rural America Migration is more than city-dwellers moving away to the country. Americans are moving towards something—safety, security, fulfillment, connectedness.

COVID-19 and technology have accelerated a shift in how Americans prioritize their time, relationships and careers.

Most of those involved in this migration aren’t enamored of living in rural America. Many would prefer living in a city, but have moved or are considering a move to a rural area to address other challenges or achieve other goals.

Fully one-third really don’t prefer either option, as long as they can find more space and a sense of tranquility they currently lack.

Distance and having to change jobs are not barriers for most urban residents considering a rural move.

Rural communities that offer reliable Internet with access to urban conveniences (healthcare, airport, shopping, education, entertainment) have the greatest growth potential.