Urbanisation -- a process driven by people’s migration from rural to urban areas and overall population growth -- is one of the greatest changes happening to humanity. Urbanisation has the power to transform people and societies by stimulating economic growth and raising people’s living standards.
At the same time, urbanisation -- as well as differences in quality of life among people living in sparsely populated areas and those residing in more crowded ones -- can create new challenges. However, investigating the differences between the lives of people in rural and urban areas has historically been complicated by the lack of a common, internationally comparable definition of “urban.” This is because each country uses its own definition.
In response to this critical measurement gap, a coalition of six international organizations (the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labor Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, UN-Habitat and the World Bank) developed a harmonized definition that can be applied to every country, called the Degree of Urbanisation. The new method associated with this definition classifies individuals as living in one of three types of settlements: cities, towns and semi-dense areas, and rural areas. The United Nations Statistical Commission officially endorsed this classification in 2020.
Gallup has been partnering with the European Commission (EC) since 2017 to geotag interviews in countries where Gallup conducts surveys in person (as well as in the United States, where Gallup contacts respondents by telephone). Gallup then used information about respondents’ locations to code their Degree of Urbanisation.
In 2022, Gallup and the EC expanded this effort to include interviews conducted by telephone around the world -- meaning, for the first time, the Degree of Urbanisation variable is available for nearly all 140+ countries surveyed by the Gallup World Poll.
This new variable is now available to Gallup World Poll data subscribers and users of Gallup Analytics. Users of these platforms can explore the effect urbanisation has on many important World Poll indicators, including happiness, access to good jobs and people’s desire to migrate.
Users of Gallup Analytics will find this new Degree of Urbanisation variable in the “demographics” panel of the platform.
Life Evaluation Ratings by Degree of Urbanisation
One example of how this variable can be used is to analyze how people living in cities, towns and semi-dense areas, and rural areas rate their lives as measured by Gallup’s Life Evaluation Index. The Life Evaluation Index classifies individuals as belonging to one of three categories: “thriving,” “struggling” or “suffering,” according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.
This analysis examines life evaluation ratings by country-income level, using the most recent World Bank classifications. While these classifications are not available in Gallup Analytics or the World Poll dataset, the calculations can be replicated by referring to the World Bank website to group the 2022 Gallup World Poll countries accordingly.
The results presented show the simple average -- meaning the population differences between countries are not taken into account -- of the share of people in a city, town or semi-dense area, or rural area who are considered thriving, struggling and suffering for each country within a given income level. Additionally, because the World Bank has not classified Venezuela in any income-level group for the past two years, that country was omitted from this analysis.
How Do People Living in Rural Areas or Cities Rate Their Lives?
Large differences in the life evaluation ratings are apparent in lower-middle-income countries and, especially, upper-middle-income countries, with individuals in the city more likely to be “thriving” than those living in rural areas. People living in towns and semi-dense areas tend to rate their lives at levels that fall in between those of people living in cities and those living in rural areas.
In low-income countries, comparable rates of people across the three areas are thriving (slightly more than one in 10) -- though city-dwellers are less likely to be suffering than residents living in less urban environments.
In lower-middle and upper-middle-income countries, the difference is more significant. More people are thriving and fewer people are suffering in cities than in rural areas. For example, the lower-middle-income average share of people suffering is 13% in cities as compared with 18% in rural areas. The upper-middle-income average share of people thriving is 34%, compared with 27% in rural areas.
In high-income countries, 46% of people living in towns and semi-dense areas are thriving on average, a figure that is slightly above the high-income country average of 44% for people living in cities. In rural areas, this figure falls slightly to 42%.
Despite the profound effect that urbanisation continues to have on societies across the world, the lack of a common definition of this phenomenon has made it difficult to understand the experiences and opinions of people living in different types of settlements in an internationally comparable manner.
The Degree of Urbanisation, which has now been incorporated into the 2022 Gallup World Poll, offers a consistent classification that can be applied across countries. Moreover, this definition provides some nuance in terms of measuring different points along the urban-rural continuum, rather than relying on a simple urban-rural dichotomy, which does not take into account the many people worldwide who live in towns and semi-dense areas.