Growing Up in Rural America

RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Vol. 8 (2022)

  • Shelley Clark
  • McGill University
  • Sam Harper
  • McGill University
  • Bruce Weber
  • Oregon State University


This article examines the context of growing up in rural America and how rural roots shape life chances. The distinctive physical, social, and cultural attributes of rural areas can exacerbate many of the challenges of childhood poverty. Yet rural children have better access to public childcare services and perform as well as urban children on standardized tests. Life trajectories diverge most sharply when rural youths decide whether to leave their home communities. Those who stay typically face limited opportunities for higher education and well-paid, stable employment, whereas those who leave fare remarkably well with respect to their educational, economic, and health outcomes. In sum, growing up in rural America offers distinctive advantages and disadvantages, yet the benefits may accrue primarily to those who leave.

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