Rural settlements in England are usually defined for statistical purposes as those with a population of less than 10,000. This includes small towns, villages, hamlets and isolated farms or dwellings. However, it is recognised that somewhat larger towns often play an important role as service and employment centres for their rural hinterland.
Some statistics are only available at higher geographies, such as local authority areas. For these statistics there is a list of local authority areas which have been classified as ‘predominantly rural’, where at least half of their population lives in rural settlements.
More information about these classifications, including maps, can be found in a leaflet published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
The figures cited below are for all rural areas across England. It should be stressed that, in practice, no two rural places are alike and their needs will vary. Whilst some are remote, others are close to large urban centres. Analysis undertaken at the local level can usefully explore this variation.
Headline facts and figures:
- 9.5 million people live in England’s rural settlements, which is 17% of the population (2018 figure).
- Older people comprise a larger share of the population in rural than in urban areas: 25% are aged 65 or over and 3% are aged 85 or over (2018).
- Average life expectancy at birth is higher in rural than it is in urban areas (2015-17).
- Travel times from home to health facilities are longer in rural than in urban areas, especially for those relying on public transport (2016).
- Shire areas score relatively well on some public health indicators e.g. sexual and reproductive health, and poorly on other indicators e.g. NHS health checks (2016 or earlier).
- Mental health problems are generally less common in rural than in urban areas, though are more common in the most sparsely populated areas (2004).
- Rural residents are more likely than urban residents to provide unpaid care to someone else (2011).
- Very few journeys by rural residents are made by a local bus service, reflecting their limited availability (2015/16).
- Some rural residents have only slow broadband connections and the mobile signal can be weak (2019).
Click here to see more detail behind these headline figures.