Key data by topic

In the long-term vision for rural areas, the European Commission sets out to achieve a vibrant future for the EU’s rural territories. These territories are defined by a wide range of qualities, from the beauty of their nature to the strength of their communities.

Rural areas also face a unique set challenges, including demographic changes, high risk of poverty, and a lack of access to basic facilities. In order to secure the best of their qualities, it is essential to understand and overcome the worst of their challenges.

Topography

Rural areas account for more than 341 m ha, which represent 83% of the total EU area in 2018. Agricultural land, forest and natural areas account for almost 80% of the EU’s area.

Demography

30.6% of the EU’s population lives in rural areas.

An older population: rural and remote areas have the lowest shares of the EU’s population in age groups below 50 years.

Social inclusion

The percentage of population at risk of poverty and social exclusion is higher in rural areas than in towns and cities.

Access to services and infrastructure

The average road distance to essential services is much shorter in urban areas compared to rural areas. For example, in a city, the average road distance to the nearest doctor is 3.5km, while for remote rural areas, the average distance is almost 21.5 km.

Only 60% of households in rural areas have access to fast broadband (>30Mbps), compared to 86% of the EU population as a whole.

Employment and education

  • Employment rate

At an EU level, the employment rate is higher in rural areas than in cities. Since 2012, the employment rate in rural areas for people aged 20-64 has increased across the EU from 68% to 73%. However, the total number of employed persons has not increased, suggesting that the increase in the employment rate is due to the decrease of the rural active population.

  • Gender employment gap

The EU rural employment rate was 67% for women and 80% for men in 2019, which translates to a gender employment gap of 13 percentage points. In comparison, the employment rate of city residents (for people aged 20-64) was 68% for women and 78% for men, which translates to a gender employment gap of 10 percentage points.

  • Education and skills

The share of population aged 25-64 in rural areas with a tertiary education has increased over time from 18% in 2012 to 22% in 2019. Despite the general increase in the share of tertiary educated in rural areas, the increase was higher in cities. As a result, the gap between rural areas and cities increased from 17 percentage points in 2012 to 19 percentage points in 2019.

  • Digital skills

In the EU, the share of rural residents that have at least basic digital skills is 14 pp lower than of city residents (48% vs 62%) in 2019.

Economic development

In 2018, the average GDP per capita in rural regions was only three quarters of the EU average.

Bioeconomy

The bioeconomy in the EU has annual turnover of €2.2 trillion euro and employs around 17.5 million people. The whole agri-food chain represents 75% of the employment in the EU’s bioeconomy and accounts for two-thirds of its turnover. In a high growth scenario, the total annual turnover of the EU Bioeconomy sector could reach up to €3 trillion by 2050, with the creation of up to 700,000 jobs, mostly in urban, coastal and rural areas.

Tourism

At the EU level, the number of tourism nights per inhabitant in rural regions is three times higher than in urban regions.

Democracy and governance

In 2018 and 2019, 50% of rural residents tended to trust the EU compared to 55% of the city residents, while only 37% of rural residents tended to trust their national government (compared to 41% in cities). Rural residents are more likely to trust local and regional authorities (57%) than their national government or the EU.

Rural residents were more likely to participate in formal and informal voluntary activities (20% and 24%) than city residents were (17% and 22%) in 2015.

Cooperation, innovation and network

Most local innovation projects (53%) funded under the agricultural European innovation partnership focus on alternative types of farming, such as

  • organic farming,
  • conservation agriculture,
  • adapting circularity principles to farming,
  • agroecology,
  • bio-based production.