Project: Research project

Project Details


This project analyzes trends in, and determinants of, income inequality within rural U.S. communities from 1970 through 2015. Income inequality refers to the degree of spread in income across households within a population. Levels of income inequality across the United States overall increased dramatically during this time period, and these growing disparities are associated with a range of social, economic, and health challenges. This study will evaluate how local income inequality has been affected by major demographic and economic transformations in rural America since 1970, including shifts in the types of employment opportunities available to rural residents, declining labor force participation rates, population aging and loss, and increasing racial and ethnic diversity. Drawing on multiple datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau and other public sources, we will first produce estimates of income inequality within counties and commuting zones--which are groups of economically-integrated counties--for each decade from 1970 to 2010 and for 2015. Then, we will estimate the magnitude of changes in local income inequality over time, and compare trends across different types of counties and commuting zones, such as rural versus urban or industrial versus agricultural. Third, we will use statistical methods to estimate whether and how demographic and economic changes have affected local income inequality across the rural United States, and compare these patterns to what has occurred in urban areas. In addition to our statistical analysis, we will conduct case studies in four high-inequality rural localities. We will collect archival data, conduct interviews, and analyze these data to develop in-depth knowledge of historical and contemporary inequality dynamics in these specific rural places. This project will provide new documentation of the trends in, and determinants of, income inequality in the rural United States over recent decades. There is currently only limited evidence on this topic. Therefore, our findings will provide policymakers and other stakeholders with the information they need to evaluate whether income inequality is a priority issue, and if so, to inform the development of appropriate mitigating strategies.

Effective start/end date3/1/182/28/22


  • National Institute of Food and Agriculture: $482,505.00


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