Rural populations fall as mid-sized towns experience boom in numbers

Gabija Gataveckaite and Micheál Ó Scannáil

Rural populations are continuing to decline but medium-sized towns have experienced a population boom and are drawing in more people than cities.

New research from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) lays bare the yawning gap between rural and urban populations with fewer than one in 10

people now living in highly rural areas.

However, they aren’t all leaving for the bright lights of the big cities. In fact, the biggest population growth of recent years has been in medium-sized towns, which are fighting back against the pull of the cities.

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The CSO’s ‘Urban and Rural Life in Ireland 2019’ report found the populations of “independent urban towns” – classified as having a population of between 5,000 and 49,999 – grew by 5.5pc between 2011 and 2016.

This compares to 4.8pc for urban areas and 1.7pc for rural areas.

In contrast, areas classified as “highly rural/remote areas” were the only ones to register a drop in population, down 0.6pc.

Between 2011 and 2016, the overall population of the country grew by 3.6pc, rising from 4.53 million to 4.69 million.

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More than a third of the population now lives in cities and 16.4pc lives in medium-sized towns of populations between 5,000 and 49,999 people, with less than 20pc of its residents working in cities.

Those living in rural areas had longer to travel to essential services, but shorter commutes and cheaper house prices.

They also reported a better quality of health than those living in cities.

The average distance to most everyday services was at least three times longer for rural dwellers compared with those in urban areas.

For a supermarket, pharmacy and a GP, the average distance for rural residents was about seven times longer than for urban residents.

The average distance to a public bus stop and train station in highly rural or remote areas is 7.1km and 47.3km respectively. This is 17 and 14 times longer than the average distance of 0.4km and 3.3km respectively in the cities.

The report also details how people living in highly rural or remote areas live on average 45km from an emergency department compared to 4.5km in cities  – the national average distance being 20.1km.

According to the report, the disability rate is higher in urban areas than rural, despite higher numbers of residents aged over 65 in rural areas.

The report also shows more people living alone in urban areas than in rural parts of the country. The highest rates for people living alone were in larger urban towns, with 31.2pc aged 65 and over.

In April 2016, the proportion of people aged 15 and over who were single was 47.2pc in cities, well above the State average of 41.1pc.

In rural areas with high urban influence, 56pc of those aged 15 and over were married.

There were more women living alone than men throughout the country, with the report stating that “women live longer”.

Highly remote areas had the highest proportions of males aged over 65 and 85 living alone.

Almost 20pc of people living in rural areas were most at risk from poverty, with 19.3pc at risk. It was the lowest in cities, with 12.8pc at risk.

Residents in rural areas also saw the lowest proportion of 18.3pc to have an education of a third-level degree or higher.

The highest proportion of people with at least a third-level degree was in cities at 35.3pc, followed by satellite urban towns at 31.7pc.

Irish Independent

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