For the purposes of the VA-RHP*, the Data and Rural Definitions Workgroup
recommended the utilization of the Isserman rural definition because it seemed
to be the most acceptable to describe the rural and urban characteristics of
Virginia’s unique governmental entity of counties and cities. The definition can
be used to identify rural and urban health related disparities. It is also a
definition favored by the Center and Council for Rural Virginia, an organization
that deals primarily with rural economic development in the state.
The Isserman definition uses four county geographical classifications: (1)
rural, (2) mixed rural, (3) mixed urban, and (4) urban.
A rural county is one in which the county’s population density is less than
500 people/square mile, and 90 percent of the county population is in a rural
area or the county has no urban area with population of 10,000 or more.
An urban county is one in which the county’s population density is at least
500 people per square mile, 90 percent of the county population lives in
urban areas, the county’s population in urbanized areas is a least 50,000 or
90 percent of the county population.
A mixed rural county is one which meets neither the urban nor the rural
county criteria, and its population density is less than 320 people per square
A mixed urban county is one which meets neither the urban nor the rural
county criteria, and its population density is at least 320 people per square
Isserman, A.M. (2005). In the National Interest: Defining Rural and Urban Correctly
in Public Policy, International Regional Science Review, 28, 4:465‐499.
*Virginia Center for Rural Health Policy Education and Research