Key Rural Issues 2023 Publication

Date published: 08 February 2024

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) today published ‘Key Rural Issues 2023’.


This publication presents publicly available data from a range of Government and non-Government sources, from a unique urban/rural perspective, in order to highlight key urban/rural differences and disparities across a range of domains.

Key statistics from the report are summarised below:

  • Population growth in rural areas from 2001-20 has outstripped that in urban areas by a factor of almost 3 to 1 (20% to 7%).
  • Young people from rural areas are more likely to leave school with 5 or more GCSEs at A* to C (83%, 74% in urban areas).
  • Those from rural areas leaving school are also more likely to enter higher education (48%) than their urban peers (41%).
  • Rural people of working age are more likely to be in full-time employment (59%), and less likely to be economically inactive than those living in urban areas.
  • Average public sector earnings are substantially higher in urban areas (£30,523, £24,656 in rural areas), with a much smaller difference between private sector earnings in rural compared with urban workplaces.
  • Workers from rural areas report being more highly skilled (58%) and are more likely to report high job satisfaction than urban workers (84% to 77%).
  • More than half (58%) of NI businesses are in rural areas, yet rural businesses account for less than a quarter (21%) of employees and around a quarter (25%) of total business turnover.
  • Rural businesses predominantly engage in agriculture, forestry, fishing and construction (57%), with urban businesses more widely spread across a variety of sectors.
  • Rural workers (90%) were also much more likely to use their own transport to commute than those from urban areas (82%), though this gap has narrowed.
  • In 2021, workers from rural areas had an average commute almost double that of urban-based workers, travelling on average more than 600 miles more during the year to get to work.
  • In 2022, six of the top ten most visited paid attractions in NI were in rural areas.
  • Broadband availability and speeds in rural areas continue to increase rapidly, with full-fibre services available to 82% of rural NI households in 2023 (from 65% in 2022).
  • People living in rural areas are consistently more likely to rate their happiness and life satisfaction as high, and their anxiety levels as low.
  • In 2023, life expectancy is higher in rural areas (80.3 years for males, 83.7 years for females), a slight decline on 2022. Rural dwellers will wait longer for emergency services than their urban counterparts.
  • People from rural areas are less likely to directly experience several crime types than those in urban areas (including burglary, vandalism and violent crime).
  • The number of recorded crimes with a sectarian motivation increased in both urban and rural areas in 2022-23. Racially and sexual orientation motivated crimes declined overall, but there was an 8% increase in racially motivated recorded crimes in rural areas from the previous year.
  • Similar proportions of urban and rural households are in relative poverty (16% urban, 19% rural) or absolute poverty (11% urban, 15% rural).
  • Rural pensioners are more likely to experience relative poverty than their urban counterparts (19% in rural areas, 13% in urban areas).
  • Levels of home ownership are higher in rural than in urban areas (85% to 66%), with house prices in rural areas continuing to outstrip those in towns and cities.

Further information can be found in the Key Rural Issues 2023 report published on the DAERA website.

Notes to editors: 

1. The Key Rural Issues 2023 report was prepared by Statistics and Analytical Services Branch, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Clare House, 303 Airport Road West, Belfast, BT3 9ED.

2. The year of data is indicated in each table and figure, which will vary as the data is derived from multiple sources. The data may be subject to change at a later date due to revisions.

3. The Key Rural Issues 2023 report presents urban/rural statistical comparisons across the following domains:

  • Population
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Industry
  • Travel and tourism
  • Crime
  • Connectivity and access to services
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Household income, housing and poverty

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5. Follow DAERA on X formerly called Twitter and Facebook.

6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office.

7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours’ service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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