The fabulous story of the rural share of Austria’s population
26.1.2014 by ramon bauer
There are simpler things than distinguishing urban and rural populations. In any case, the authors of Austria’s new government programme got it completely wrong.
After Austria’s national election round in September 2013, it took the new (old) government a while to come up with a new five-year government programme in late December 2013. Some say it’s substantially vague, I say it also includes at least one fundamental mistake with respect to the percentage of the population living in rural areas. Here is the translation of the original quote on page 20:
“A focus of the Austrian government is to strengthen rural areas,
where 66 per cent of the population live.”
It is well-known that around 2010 planet Earth became predominately urban, with more than 50 per cent of the global population living in urban areas. It seems that this escaped the notice of Austria’s political elite. Accordingly to the government’s working programme for the period 2013 to 2018, only one third of Austria’s population is urban. In fact, already by the 1950s the proportion of Austria’s urban population reached more than 60 per cent, and further increased since then.
In order to separate guesstimates from evidence, it is necessary to consider different definitions of urban and rural areas. On top of that, these definitions vary from country to country – see national definitions of “urban” (collected by the UN). In the case of Austria, at least three different approaches of “urban” should be considered:
- Communes of more than 5,000 inhabitants
… a definition that is, in the case of Austria, also used by the UN.
- Urban regions … as defined by Statistics Austria, taking into account population density as well commuting flows from the outer zones to the urban core.
- Degree of urbanisation … accordingly to the OECD-Eurostat definition, which is distinguishing between three types of area by using a criterion of geographical contiguity in combination with population density based on grid cells of 1 km².
No matter how one might distinguish rural from urban populations, the majority of Austria’s population is certainly urban. In 2013, about 57 per cent lived in communes with more than 5,000 inhabitants and more than 66 per cent lived in urban areas (core and outer zones) – and not the other way round (in rural areas), as incorrectly stated in the government programme. Accordingly to the OECD-Eurostat definition, only 40 per cent of the population of Austria lived in thinly populated areas (i.e. rural areas), while almost 60 per cent lived in urban areas: 30 per cent in densely populated areas (i.e. cities or large urban area) and 29 per cent in intermediate populated areas (i.e. towns and suburbs or small urban area).
Well, I always hoped that politicians don’t get everything wrong – and still do hope so. However, since the government programme was published more than a month ago, it makes me a little bit worried that this odd error has not been corrected by now, i.e. by the end of January 2014.