A systematic literature review on the rural-urban well-being gap in Europe

From Firenze University Press Journal: Bio-based and Applied Economics (BAE)

University of Florence
4 min readMar 26, 2024

Cesare Meloni, University of Tuscia

Benedetto Rocchi, University of Florence

Simone Severini, University of Tuscia

European countries use large amounts of public resources to support the development of rural areas, particularly through the European Union (EU) rural development policy. The reasons for supporting rural areas, which tend to be in disadvantaged conditions (Shucksmith et al., 2006), are many and vary from improving their competitiveness, creating jobs outside the agriculture industry (new businesses, development of tourism related activities etc.), devel-opment of access and connections between cities and rural areas, development of basic infrastructure in villages, particularly in new EU member states. Our analysis refers to the issue of the economic disadvantage of house-holds living in rural areas. Very often, rural areas are less developed and characterized by smaller incomes and greater employment, educational and administrative problems than non-rural ones (Bock et al., 2015; Shuck-smith et al., 2006, 2009; Sørensen, 2014). Furthermore, rural areas and small towns are more Eurosceptic than larger cities (Dijkstra et al., 2020). All these aspects make the gap between rural and non-rural areas very important for policy makers.

This paper investigates on this topic by means of a sys-tematic literature review (SLR) focusing on Europe, filling a gap, as no similar analyses have been developed to the best of our knowledge. The study first aims at answering whether a well-being gap exists between rural and urban areas in Europe, focusing on the economic aspect of well-being. This also calls for answering the following addi-tional questions: is there sufficiently robust and compa-rable empirical evidence to answer the research question? Are there any spaces to improve the analyses on this issue especially in terms of data and methodologies? The results of this analysis allow to explore the complexity of the topic at stake, the large array of data, dimensions and methodologies used, and to provide a synthesis of the main empirical results. As a consequence, the analysis paves the way for future research activities that could be developed on this relevant but somehow neglected issue.

The distinction between city and countryside, urban and rural, has long been rooted in European civilization. The etymological roots of the terms “urban” and “rural” extend at least as far as the classical Latin words urbs (city) and rus (open space) (Woods & Heley, 2017). Usu-ally, the city or urbs has always been the object, with the rural always being the “other”, the non-urban, the open space beyond the city and the precise boundary between rural and urban, therefore, has always been open to interpretation and controversy (Woods & Heley, 2017).The history of the concept of urban-rural relations is one in which theoretical research and practical policy development are closely intertwined and difficult to sepa-rate. Following Copus (2011) it is convenient to divide it into two main phases. The first started in the mid-1950s and died out in the 1980s (Phase 1: Growth Poles, Cumu-lative Causation and National Policies). The second one started in the late 90s and still continues (Phase 2: The ESDP, SPESP, ESPON, INTEREG, the Territorial Agenda, RURBAN and City Regions). For a detailed explanation of the two historical phases, see Copus (2011).In recent years the relationship between urban and rural areas has become a recurring theme in discussions on European rural policy. In very general terms it is seen as a promising component of a more territorial approach to meeting the development needs of lagging rural areas. This, of course, is not a new idea, but dates back to the 1950s and 1960s. However, in recent decades the real-ity and the connections between these two areas have become much more complex (Copus, 2011). Rural areas have undergone profound economic and social changes since the first agricultural policies aimed at modernization and land management. As a result, rurality can no longer be defined solely in terms of agricultural activities and associated lifestyles. Indeed, since the publication of the key document on L’avenir du monde rural (“The future of rural society”) in 1988, the European Commission has clearly identified, for the first time, the need for a territorial rural policy that goes beyond the agriculture and included local development and environmental concerns as key elements (European Commission, 1988).The determination of rurality, being at the core of a relevant policy debate for almost 60 years (Mantino, 2021), depends on several factors (Féret et al., 2020): 1) the global contexts (i.e. the characteristics of the socio-economic systems of which rurality is a part); 2) the discourse and the political objectives pursued; 3) the social representations of the different categories of stakeholders. In Europe, each country has developed its own definition of rurality, often as a response to a particular political, administrative and wider territorial context, and in some cases as a result of national classifications of other fac-tors (such as population, accessibility). Approaches and definitions are rarely similar between countries (Bontron, 1996; Depraz, 2007; Shucksmith et al., 2009).Given the complexity of the topic, six approaches can be found in the literature to define the criteria of rural: the administrative approach, the morphological approach (population density), the locational approach, the functional approach, the landscape approach, and the combined approach (combination of at least two of the other approaches) (Féret et al., 2020; Mantino, 2021). Furthermore, it is important to realize that the rural areas can be located inside a functional urban area (FUA), outside but close to a FUA or in a remote area (OECD, 2020c). For all these reasons, the debates on “rural” and “rurality” definition are an issue that still needs attention in both research programs and policies.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/bae-13178

Read Full Text: https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/bae/article/view/13178



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