USDA Agricultural Research Service --Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



N. Glasgow et al. (eds.), Rural Aging in 21st Century America, Understanding Population Trends and Processes 7; DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-5567-3_14


In the rural United States (US), where roughly one in five Americans live, elderly are overrepresented, with 14.6% of the population versus 12% for the nation (US Census Bureau 2009a). Additionally, the proportion of elderly is growing faster in rural than in urban places due to persistent outmigration of rural youth (Cromartie 2007; Brown and Glasgow 2008). The shrinking proportion of younger cohorts represents a serious challenge for many rural communities. Especially in geographically isolated areas where elderly make up 18% of the population, prolonged and persistent out-migration of youth goes hand in hand with natural population loss (McGranahan and Beale 2002). The vitality and long-term sustainability of many rural places is called into question. Concern for these issues sparked our research.

When embarking on this project, we did not plan to study aging in rural places. Instead, we set out to explore return migration to rural communities. We wanted to understand what motivates people to move back to rural places they left shortly after graduating from high school. In the process, we discovered that concern for family and an appreciation of intergenerational relationships were important in influencing people’s decision to move back to their rural home town. The presence of aging parents residing in the rural community turned out to be a critical element for promoting rural return migration.