Anja Herkner
Institute of Rural Studies

Bundesallee 64
38116 Braunschweig
Phone: +49 531 596 5501
Fax: +49 531 596 5599

Staying in the Rural: Contemporary Life Course related Senses of Belonging, Mobility and Rural Community Participation


The opportunity to establish home ownership can be one motivation to stay in rural areas. (c) Annett Steinführer
The opportunity to establish home ownership can be one motivation to stay in rural areas. (© Annett Steinführer)

Staying in the Rural

Staying in rural (and non-rural) areas in different life course stages is connected to deliberate decisions. The project aims to highlight the motives of those who stay, as they are often neglected in studies on rural areas.

Background and Objective

Population geography research has focused on in- and out-migration. Especially in rural areas, those who do not move are seen as a residual category and their motivations for staying receive limited academic or policy attention.

STAYin(g)Rural investigates why and how people stay in rural areas at different stages of their lives. The focus lies on three life course stages that are known triggers for the re-negotiation of the decision to stay or to leave: 1) young adulthood, commencing employment or further education 2) union and family formation 3) transition to retirement. For all three life course stages we acknowledge that people elect to (selectively) belong to and participate in rural areas and that different types of mobilities influence their staying processes.

We are especially interested in:

  1. staying processes in rural areas in different life course stages
  2. relations between belonging, staying processes and active contribution to community life
  3. the question of how staying is individually enabled and performed in different geographical contexts - more precisely in three regions with a history of depopulation


Our research interest requires the integration of different methods. Empirically, we examine three European case study regions: East Groningen in the Netherlands, South Tyrone in Northern Ireland and Landkreis Göttingen in Lower Saxony, Germany. All three regions are considered to be secluded and peripheral in their national contexts and traditionally exhibit tendencies of population decline and especially the out-migration of youth. The focus of the research lies on villages comprising less than 2.000 inhabitants.

During the project, the results will continuously be discussed with actors from rural areas and further developed in cooperation with them. To this end, National Steering Groups with representatives of different interest groups and specific community and life course stage representatives will be set up in each country.

Data and Methods

The following empirical investigations are conducted:

  • a standardised questionnaire in eleven villages in late 2019/early 2020 (with 1,100 respondents)
  • semi-structured interviews (15 for each life course stage of interest) in 2020
  • focus group discussions with respondents in different life course stages in 2021

The Thünen Institute of Rural Studies is responsible for the case study Südharz (district Göttingen, Lower Saxony) in Germany as well as for the life course stage of retirement.

Our Research Questions

  1. Which stayer types and staying processes can be identified at different life course stages, for different generations and in different rural geographical contexts?
  2. What are the roles of different types of belonging, rootedness, and peer and family influences in the processes of rural staying? To what extent can ‘cultures of staying’ be identified?
  3. How do daily life mobilities (e.g. commuting), virtual mobilities (e.g. social media) and (reverse) place elasticity (e.g. connections with leavers and other places) enable staying?
  4. How do stayers participate in and contribute to social community life? How does this relate to their s/elective ways of belonging to the rural region and their social networks?

Preliminary Results

The findings of the research project STAYin(g)Rural promise a changed perspective on rural areas: Through the eyes of those who stay, subjectively perceived opportunities, problems and meanings of places can be understood as well as their interconnectedness with processes of staying.


Involved Thünen-Partners

Involved external Thünen-Partners

  • University of Groningen
    (Groningen, Niederlande)
  • Queen's University Belfast
    (Belfast, Großbritannien (Vereinigtes Königreich))

Funding Body

  • Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    (national, öffentlich)


5.2019 - 5.2022

More Information

Projekt type:
Project status: ongoing

Publications to the project

hits: 1

  1. Steinführer A, Lengerer F (2020) Von Menschen, die bleiben. Stadtbauwelt 227:42-47