Rural Sociological Society Executive Council

Statement on Reclassification of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Areas

Writing in our capacity as leaders in the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) – a professional association promoting the generation, application, and dissemination of knowledge – this letter documents concerns over the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding proposed changes in delineating metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas. We express these concerns along with colleagues from other social science organizations and networks, especially members of the W4001 Multistate Project Social, Economic and Environmental Causes and Consequences of Demographic Change in Rural America.

The RSS Executive Council’s overarching concern is the need to have consistency in geographic and population concepts and definitions in order to accurately monitor, track, and interpret population change. This is critical for achieving good science and informing public policy. The changes proposed to the OMB would limit the ability to make sense of changes between and within metropolitan and nonmetropolitan people and places. Listed below are specific criticisms.

The recommendation to change the minimum urban area population for metropolitan status from 50,000 to 100,000 persons has not been adequately justified. A compelling empirical case has not been provided. It is also noteworthy that changing the threshold for metropolitan status would also widen the population size category for micropolitan areas. Such changes would undermine decades of social scientific and public policy collaboration to understand the characteristics and trends of places across the metropolitan-nonmetropolitan spectrum by making historical comparisons extremely complicated.

The proposal to start annual and bi-decennial updates to classifications would exacerbate these challenges. Counties categorization as metropolitan and nonmetropolitan could be changed annually, mid-decade, and upon decennial delineations. This would negatively impact the ability to track changes over meaningful and standardized time periods, would result in areas at the nonmetropolitan-metropolitan interface in continuous flux, and make it highly problematic to use population data and metropolitan-nonmetropolitan designations to inform eligibility and allocation decisions required for effective public policy. Additionally, the time-tested approach to making metropolitan-nonmetropolitan designations using decennial census data is critical to have sufficient data and to have public trust in the meaning of the classifications.

To conclude, we want to reiterate what other social scientific colleagues have recommended. It would be more appropriate for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to consider and judge the merits of changes to metropolitan and nonmetropolitan thresholds and practices. This would entail greater input from diverse stakeholders and promote scientific integrity.


Kai Schafft, President RSS                            Dreamal Worthen, President-elect RSS
Keiko Tanaka, Past President RSS               John J. Green, Vice President RSS
Deborah Tootle, Secretary                             Cynthia B. Struthers, Executive Director/Treasurer

The Rural Sociological Society (RSS)

The RSS is a professional social science association that promotes the generation, application, and dissemination of sociological knowledge. The Society seeks to enhance the quality of rural life, communities, and the environment. This website is intended to serve all those interested in rural people and places.

We seek and support a diverse and international membership of academics and practitioners who share our interests in rural people and places.

What We Do

The core activities of the Rural Sociological Society are our peer-reviewed journal, Rural Sociology, our annual conference, and support for communities of scholars concerned with specific rural topics. Through these activities, the RSS has provided leadership in scholarship, policies, and advocacy. Since its founding in 1937, the RSS has traced changes in rural life and livelihoods, demography, community structures and economies, technologies, environmental conditions, and agriculture and food systems.

Shared Values at the Rural Sociological Society

In these politically turbulent times we wish to share with others the core values that we believe animate and organize our activities as members and leaders of the Rural Sociological Society (RSS).  We believe in the free expression of ideas, in civil discourse and mutual respect among participants, and in the value of scientific research without political considerations.  We oppose actions and words that demean, exclude, and otherwise marginalize individuals and groups of different genders, races, identities, sexual orientations, and national origins.  We seek to assist vulnerable and marginalized peoples wherever they may be. 

The Benefits of Membership

Why RSS? RSS offers multiple opportunities to interact with others who share your interests in rural places both in the United States and internationally.  We have fourteen Research and Interest Groups. RSS keeps you informed of professional opportunities via our website and monthly eBulletin.  A subscription to our journal Rural Sociology is included with your membership. RSS members receive a discounted registration rate to our Annual Meeting (held late July or August each year).  RSS members take an active part in the program of the annual meeting by submitting posters, papers, panels, and organized sessions. RSS offers leadership opportunities.

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Research and Interest Groups (RIGs)

What are Research and Interest Groups? Research and Interest Groups (RIGs) reflect the substantive interests of RSS Members and serve as an important avenue for connecting members with similar interests.  RIGs serve a critical role in RSS including: identifying, developing, and recruiting for the annual RSS conference; planning special events, speakers, field trips for the annual conference; providing intellectual leadership in their respective areas; rewarding achievement through internal awards and recognitions; and creating opportunities for members, particularly graduate students, to network and identify colleagues with similar interests. 

RSS currently has 14 RIGs. 

More information can be found here