Exploring Rural Disability Onset

Portion of a map showing disability rates in every county in the United States

Click on the map image to view RTC:Rural’s Disability in America map series.

RTC:Rural’s previous research has found that people who live in rural areas begin to experience disability from mobility, cognitive and sensory impairment as much as 10 years before people in urban areas. There are also higher rates of disability in rural areas across all age groups. We have also found that racial and ethnic minorities experience the highest disability rates as well as the greatest urban/rural differences.

In order to understand urban/rural differences, we need to understand how disability evolves in rural and urban areas, and what influences disability severity outcomes. If disability evolves differently, these differences may provide insight into the nature and context of rural disability and may help inform interventions. This study will also examine migration, and how moving from an urban to rural area (or vice versa) can affect the disability experience.

This study will use data from the National Longitudinal of Adolescent to Adult Health Study (Add Health), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79), and the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to explore the following questions:

  • How does disability severity evolve over the life course and how does the evolution of disability vary between urban and rural areas?
  • What are the common precursors of disability and how do these vary between urban and rural areas?
  • How does migration from an urban area to a rural one (or vice versa) affect disability severity?


  • Project dates: 2018-2023
  • Funded by: National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research Grant No. 90RTCP0002-01-00
  • Principle Staff: Bryce Ward, Catherine Ipsen, Craig Ravesloot
  • Related Projects:

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