A study from the Pew Research Center showed that the percentage of Americans who prefer to live in rural areas has remained virtually unchanged during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This is in comparison to more people wanting to live in suburbs vs. cities, according to the research published in December 2021 by the Pew Research Center. 

The report found that about one-in-five U.S. adults now express a preference for living in a city, down from about a quarter in 2018. The share of Americans who would like to live in the suburbs has increased from 42% to 46% during this time. 

Meanwhile, the preference for rural areas is virtually unchanged – 35% in 2021 compared to 36% in 2018.

Ben Winchester is an extension educator of community economics at the University of Minnesota Extension. He has worked in small communities since 1997, including in his home state of Minnesota. Winchester said the narrative around rural communities tends to always focus on brain drain or kids leaving. 

“Apparently, that’s a huge problem,” he said. “OK, the kids have been leaving for 140 years. OK, so let’s just put the brakes on this kind of antiquated notion that that’s going to kill our town.”

Instead, Winchester researches people who move into towns and the reasons why. One issue he has studied and learned about is the housing shortage in rural America. 

“During the pandemic, our limited housing stocks that went on the market really got exacerbated in price value, because of the pandemic,” he said. 

Because of this, multigenerational housing is making a return, he added. 

“In the 1900s, it was a regular thing to have a multigenerational household, and then it kind of went down in the 50s,” Winchester said. “And then now, we’re going right back. So I think there are all these kinds of cross trends going on.”

One thing that he has examined is the fact that many of the homes that do become available never even hit the market, so that’s why there may be little turnover in the community. 

“You have all of these things working against homeownership right now,” he said. 

“Regardless of where they live, nearly half of Americans (47% overall) say the pandemic has divided their communities; relatively few (13%) say it has brought people together,” according to the researchers. “And many see a long road to recovery, with about one-in-five saying life in their community will never get back to the way it was before the coronavirus outbreak.”

About 33% of rural residents said the economic impact of the pandemic is a major problem in their local area, compared to 31% in suburban areas and 45% in urban areas. 

“There are also racial, ethnic and income differences in these assessments,” according to the report. “Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than white or Asian Americans to say the pandemic’s economic impact is a major problem where they live, and Black adults are more likely than other racial or ethnic groups to say this about the health impact. Lower-income adults are also more likely than those with middle and upper incomes to say the health and economic impact of the pandemic are major problems in their local communities.” 

Both rural and urban dwellers believe it will take a while for their communities to return to pre-pandemic ways of life. It will take more than two years to recover, according to 41% of city residents and 37% of rural residents. About one-in-five say it will never go back to the way it was. 

The study was conducted in October 2021 of more than 9,670 U.S. adults who were a member of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, an online survey panel that is recruited through random sampling of residential addresses. The survey took place before the news of the omicron variant. 

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