Exploring the consequences of the urban-rural cultural divide in America

    There are many political and cultural differences that push false narratives.

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    Image Credit: Efi Chalikopoulou

    People don’t have to live in America for very long before they experience the divide between city and rural communities. There are many political and cultural differences that push false narratives. This dynamic ultimately creates more harm than good, which is why we should start exploring the societal consequences of the urban-rural cultural divide in America.

    People reside in echo chambers

    When someone finds a place that feels like home, it’s often because they find themselves surrounded by others who think or live like them. No one’s comfortable when they’re the odd one out in their friend group. It’s especially untenable when their identity, belief or lifestyle clash in ways that cause constant rifts or arguments.

    This natural human tendency leads to part of the urban-rural cultural divide in America. People who live in more rural areas have right-leaning political and unified religious beliefs, while urban residents often lean more left-leaning political ideologies and diverse religious standings.

    A 2017 study found that in the 2016 presidential election, there were more Republican voters in rural counties and more Democratic voters in urban areas. The results even stayed consistent when they removed social, demographic and economic factors like education, race and age. As people remain separated by this divide, their communities become echo chambers that hinder personal growth and diverse interpersonal perspectives.

    Jobs become less widespread

    There’s no doubt that more people live in big cities than rural counties, but everyone needs to find and maintain employment. Experts expect the U.S. economy to experience a boom in jobs well beyond 2022 and it’s critical to understand how those jobs impact the urban-rural divide.

    Fewer employment opportunities are one of the primary societal consequences of that divide. Of all the job growth expected over the next eight years, 25 cities will experience 60% of the employment hike, which leaves rural counties with flat or negative job growth.

    Higher unemployment rates in rural areas become pseudo-proof that people in rural communities aren’t as competent or employable. Others might move to big cities to avoid that stereotypical group of people that likely wouldn’t seem prominent if there were equal employment opportunities.

    People live in fear of the unknown

    Anyone who has lived in a rural community may have heard the scary rumors about big cities. People like to say that massive urban areas like New York City have more crime because they contain more residents and tourists. The urban-rural cultural divide perpetuates this fear, but research proves it untrue. Experts have found, for example, that many parts of New York City are actually 95% safer than other U.S. cities of smaller sizes. 

    The truth can get lost in the dialogue constantly happening online and in social circles. Those conversations keep people rooted in their biased fears that make their urban or rural neighborhoods seem like the better alternative. There’s no opportunity to question or research the reality behind the myth, which continues the divide.

    Poverty becomes the expectation

    On the flip side, people who live in urban communities their entire lives can have the opinion that rural areas are places of unchangeable poverty. The myth that rural residents have little to no education and prefer unemployment feed into that. It can harden hearts against social causes and solutions to the poverty that keeps rural residents from achieving a better quality of life.

    Anyone who shares those beliefs will also consider moving to rural counties less often. They’ll stick with the cities they believe are the sources of prosperity, which keeps people separated on ideas without proven factual bases.

    Innovation gets overlooked

    Many entrepreneurs live in rural areas but struggle to achieve success because few people move to their communities. Research proves that counties with increased entrepreneurship increase area employment by 73%, but the people needed to fill those jobs aren’t moving to those counties.

    Small rural businesses and entrepreneurial brands often fail because they can’t find the local support they need to flourish. It creates an empty economic pocket that rarely gets filled because the shuttered businesses perpetuate the idea that nothing can survive outside cities other than farms and agricultural companies.

    Study the urban-rural cultural divide

    There are many social consequences of the urban-rural cultural divide in America, so we must keep studying them to find long-term solutions. When factors like biases and myths get dismantled, the divide will shrink because people will work together.

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