Small rural towns are losing young women faster than they’re losing young men, a new study of the population of Kansas and Nebraska shows. For some of the really tiny places, the ratio of men to women doubled in the 10 years.
But before checking the Nebraska real estate listings, women should realize the imbalance might be because there’s not as much for women to do work wise out there.
Robert Shepard, a doctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who did the study, says rural communities need to think about opportunities for young women as they make their development plans. “There’s a lot of awareness that younger people are leaving rural communities,” said Shepard. “Where some of the men come back, because there are a lot of traditionally male jobs like agriculture and industry to return to, many rural communities don’t often provide the same opportunities to women.”
In more than half the of 1,627 places with fewer than 800 residents that Shepard looked at, the ratio of young men to young women increased between 2000 and 2010. Census data showed that the median increase wasn’t that huge: just 7%, but some very small communities saw very big gaps opening up between the number of men and women. The average increase was about 40%.
Shepard looked at the ratio of boys to girls aged between 12 and 17 in 2000 and then looked at the ratio of young men and women aged between 22 and 27 in 2010. He found a significant drop off in young women. The years between 17 and 27 are when people go off to college. Since more women are becoming more educated with every decade, it could be that the small town women are not coming back, although Shepard isn’t so sure. “Industrial and agricultural jobs still heavily favor women,” he says. “I’m not sure if that’s institutional or because women don’t choose to work in those fields.”
The numbers would certainly accord with other data that suggests there are many more women than men in metropolitan areas. Washington DC, Boston and New York skew paricularly female with some reports saying the Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick area of Maryland has 20% more women. This is also true of metro areas in the plains like Topeka, Kansas and Scottsbluff, Neb. where there are more women than male peers. Genderwise, “even middle sized communities are more stable,” says Shepard.
Why aren’t women making their little homes on the prairies? In previous studies, women have cited the low level of career opportunities and high level of patriarchy. “Anecdotally, I hear both stories from people,” says Shepard. “A lot just feel women don’t have a very big place. But they might not say so right away. No-one wants to say their hometown is sexist. ”
One thing Shepard noticed, however, was that the imbalance wasn’t universal. Some places that had a high ratio of guys bordered counties with a higher proportion of women. Because the numbers are so small it’s hard to get funding to study the root causes of the female-drain from small towns, so it may be a while until that’s sorted out. Probably wise to postpone booking the U-Haul until then.