Monday, 23 May 2016 07:41

Escaping the rural pay penalty

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Escaping the rural pay penalty

Those who start out and then stay in rural jobs find themselves earning the least, finds Brian Wilson.

Dr Martin Culliney of Sheffield Hallam University has published a journal article based on data which compares the earnings of those who live in rural and urban locations, and those who migrate or relocate between the two. For anyone wishing to read the full article, it can be found on the British Sociological Association website.

Many readers will be familiar with the statistics often quoted by RSN, showing that wage levels in rural areas are significantly lower than those in urban areas. Many will also recognise that rural residents who commute to urban jobs typically earn more than those with local (rural) jobs. The new research by Dr Culliney sheds further light on this.

     See also: Rural childhood leads to lower earnings

He has analysed a longitudinal dataset, which tracks the same (almost) 1,600 people annually, over an eighteen year period from 1991 to 2009. At the outset these people were aged 15 to 24 and by the end they were aged 33 to 42. Both their monthly take-home pay and their place of residence were tracked, noting whether the latter was rural or urban.

One notable conclusion is the contrast between the fortunes of young rural people and those who are somewhat older (though still less than age 43). Among the under 25s, those living in rural areas earn markedly less than their urban counterparts. Rural young people, with an average £875 per month, earn £76 or 8% less than the urban young. This stands in contrast to those aged 25 to 42, where any rural-urban difference is very small.

The analysis then explores the impact of relocating or moving home between rural and urban areas. Perhaps the most depressing finding is that the group with the lowest take-home pay by 2009 is that which had lived in a rural area in 1991 and remained there throughout. Their average take-home pay was a fairly meagre £14,400.

Moreover, the group which started out in a rural area but then moved to an urban one earned noticeably more – an average of £18,400. This put them on a par with those who lived in an urban area throughout the period. In short, being geographically mobile considerably increased their earning power.

Another group worth highlighting is the (initially) urban dwellers who had moved to a rural area by 2009. They had the highest earnings of any group, with a monthly take-home pay of £23,400. We often characterise those bringing wealth into rural communities as retirees, but this research shows that movers in their late thirties and early forties also arrive with higher earnings.

So what does this tell us? According to the article it adds credence to the notion of "residual rural labour markets", put forward by Cambridge economist, Ian Hodge. He posits that many rural people – especially the young – seek employment outside their local area and move out. Those who don't relocate are joining a labour market with limited job choices and lower pay. Others, like the OECD, have pointed to the lack of larger firms in rural areas, which reduces the prospects for career progression, as well as the tendency of firms to locate managerial and professional posts in urban centres.

Of course, many of those who move out do so to go on to tertiary education, which remains predominantly urban based.

The article notes that overcoming any inherent disadvantage of rural living requires resources, such as access to a car, good IT communications and an ability to work flexibly or from home. Young people are less likely to run a car and less likely to be able to homework, which may explain their particular labour market disadvantage. Equally, those moving into rural areas are the most likely to have such resources.

One intriguing (if not altogether surprising) finding, which begs further exploration, is that young people who leave rural areas tend to have parents who moved in, whereas those who stay put tend to have parents that did the same. Relocating for education and employment is an inter-generational trait.

Dr Culliney believes his results support the idea that retaining more young people, which so many rural communities are desperate to do, must mean improving transport, training and employment opportunities at the same time as providing suitable affordable housing. Too true, if getting on is not to mean getting out.

This article was written by Brian Wilson whose consultancy, Brian Wilson Associates, can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. It provides policy and strategic research and advice. Areas of specialism include rural policy, public service delivery, community action and advice for neighbourhood planning groups. He is a Director of Rural England CIC.

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