City life has called to small-town kids for decades on the Great Plains, but it’s leaving rural Nebraska with disproportionately more young men than young women.
In towns with 800 or fewer people, the guys in their mid-20s outnumber gals by a significantly higher percentage than when they were teenagers a decade ago, according to the study by Robert Shepard, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources.
Shepard said he looked at Nebraska and Kansas census data of where people ages 12 to 17 lived in 2000 and compared it to the distribution of young adults ages 22 to 27 in the 2010 Census.
“Previous authors have speculated that rural places might be disproportionately less attractive to young women,” Shepard wrote in the study published in the Spring 2014 edition of Great Plains Research. “The evidence from this research identifies that such a difference does exist in relative terms across Kansas and Nebraska, and that young women are comparatively more attracted to cities of more than 5,000 residents in these states.”
To put it more succinctly, Shepard said, he briefly considered titling his study, “Where are the ladies at?” before knowing his work would be published in a social sciences research journal.
“Evidence from this research appears to suggest that, relative to rural areas, urban places of Kansas and Nebraska are experiencing a disproportionate gain of young women compared to young men in the same age ranges,” he wrote in the study.
Shepard said he’s concerned that his work will be misinterpreted as a migration study, that it will look like he’s saying young women are leaving the states’ smallest towns more than young men.
“They’re both leaving in great numbers,” Shepard said.
In fact, more young men appear to be leaving rural areas than young women, he said. But there are so few young women left in towns of 800 people or fewer, Shepard said, that the gender ratio has increased on average from 121.8 men per 100 women in those areas in 2000 to 136.5 men per 100 women in 2010.
The next step, Shepard suggests, would be for researchers to conduct a survey of men and women in the age ranges he studied, to see why they are leaving rural areas, and why others have stayed.
“It’s interesting as a jumping-off point for talking about this issue,” Shepard said.