Urban Transformation

Why are countries paying people to leave cities and move to rural areas?

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Roughly 4.4 billion people live in cities. Image: Unsplash/Romain V

Stephen Hall
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The share of the world population living in rural areas has been steadily declining.
  • But many countries are now offering financial incentives to get people to leave cities for the countryside, in order to boost populations and economic growth in these areas.
  • Japan's government is offering $7,600 per child to families who move out of greater Tokyo.

But many governments are now trying to persuade people to turn their backs on city living and move to rural areas instead, to boost populations and economic growth in these areas. Here are some of the countries offering incentives to their citizens to make the switch.

Share of population worldwide living in rural areas from 1990 to 2021

A graphic showing how the share of the global population living in rural areas is decreasing.
The share of the world population living in rural areas has been steadily declining. Image: Statista.

Japan

Families must live in their new homes for at least five years in order to receive the payment, and one member of the household must either be working or planning to open a business.

The government says the trend towards home working is helping to spread economic opportunities throughout the country, and has led to a population boost in towns like Shirahama, which is an hour’s flight away from Tokyo.

The United States

The Worker Relocation Incentive Program was recently expanded so that people in all occupations are eligible. It is funded through a one-off $3 million allocation from the Vermont Legislature, and operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

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“This program alone won’t solve our demographic challenges, but it is a piece of the puzzle as we continue our work to roll out additional housing and economic development programs,” says Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary, Lindsay Kurrle.

Spain

There have been significant population declines in areas covering almost half of Spain since 1950, with 23 highly rural provinces most severely affected. The population loss has exceeded 50% in some areas, Spanish think tank Funcas says.

The rural relocation scheme aims to increase the contribution these areas make towards Spanish GDP. These regions account for about 30% of the Spanish economy, while rural areas in France and Germany make up about 40% of national GDP.

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Switzerland

New residents receive $27,000 for relocating to the Rhone Valley town, but they have to be under 45, agree to stay for 10 years, and invest at least $215,000 in real estate.

Italy

Local governments in a number of areas including Piedmont in the north and Tuscany in central Italy are offering homes for €1 ($1.10) to encourage people to move to rural towns.

The scheme aims to revive abandoned town centres and redevelop buildings that have slipped into poor condition.

Remote work can save rural areas

The shift to remote work offers “an unprecedented chance in Europe to save many rural areas,” Marcus Andersson, CEO of consultancy Future Place Leadership, told the BBC. “Many of them are on the brink of bankruptcy – they can’t survive as functioning places or functioning administrations – and this is a really great opportunity … because they are now attracting the very people they need to attract: those that have kids or are on the way of starting a family.”

Writing for the World Economic Forum, social scientist and science communicator Tatiana Reuil says that remote work can offer a borderless and inclusive future and help create a truly diverse and global workforce.

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