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Motivation and Consequences of the Middle Class in Rural Areas

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Counter-urbanisation is the process by which the population of a country becomes less centralised in large urban areas and people begin to sprawl out towards urban areas (Cloke, 1985). In Britain it is often associated with the migration of the middle-class from cities towards smaller communities, either for good in the context of retirement of commuting, or taken on as a second home (Gallent, 2006). These middle-class households leave urban areas in search of an escape to the British countryside portrayed in the media. In this essay, I will discuss the process of counter-urbanisation in Britain as well as the motivations behind it, followed by a discussion on whether this domestic migration has rendered the British countryside a middle-class space.

Counter-urbanisation is the product of a complicated social and political atmosphere which has resulted in middle class rural dream worlds pushing the middle class towards urban areas of Britain. It began when the productionist-era, the result of concerns during the Second World War that Britain was not self-sufficient, came to an end with move towards free trade (Woods, 2004). EU memberships and new world trade talks meant that the British government could no longer protect farmers from cheaper imports by imposing tariffs (Evans, Morris and Winter, 2002). This, combined with pressure from environmentalist groups to reduce the use of less intensive farming techniques, as well as pressure from industrialists to open up rural land for developments meant that agriculture in Britain became less profitable and therefore less appealing (May, 2020). Some farmers attempted to increase income with capitalist mechanisation by intensifying further and selling out to trans-national corporations, whilst other farms financially diversified and started to sell rural experiences (May, 2020). This sparks the appearance of a concept which Cloke names “the material and imaginative worlds of the rural” (2006: 24), referring to the beginning of the British rural being consumed for the experience rather than the goods produced by production. These experiences, in the form of rural getaways, portrayed rural life as calm and peaceful as a result of nature (Cloke and Goodwin, 1992). This provided middle-class people with a contrast to the busy and seemingly ceaseless urban life outlined by Harvey (1999). Harvey discusses the concept in which the homogeneity of global urban areas and developments in travel and communications technology have resulted in a globalised society in which processes must and do happen quickly in order to succeed (1999). As a result, rural Britain became an idyllic escape for middle-class Britons as a place which has remained at a slow pace in comparison to urban life. This idea of the rural idyll, supported by popular media such as Postman Pat, fuelled the influx of the middle-class into rural Britain during the late 1960s (Horton, 2008). This counter-urbanisation was aided by the increase in living costs in towns and cities pushing some people to move out to commuter towns for a cheaper cost of living (Cloke and Thrift, 1987). The state was also a factor through its improvement of rural services such as the expansion of the motorway, improvements to NHS facilities in rural areas and the construction of county universities which brought jobs and stimulated local economies (May, 2020). In 1990, remote urban and rural areas had a net migration increase of 13,665 (Champion, 1998 in May, 2020). This was one of many migrations which took place in Britain during this time as the middle-class moved from larger urban areas to rural areas in search of a rural idyll.

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This influx of newcomers who have experiences, opinions and needs contrary to those of the native population can have significant effects on the communities in the British countryside. One of these is outlined by Cloke and Goodwin when they discuss how this flood of middle-class people can try to shape the communities they move to into their idea of a rural idyll (1992). They describe how the new middle-class population value traditional British countryside and can sometimes attempt to blockade modernisation, such as new housing developments (Cloke and Goodwin, 1992). These village regulators influence decisions through leadership roles in the council and support groups as they can be viewed as changes to the idyll which they chose to move to (Cloke, Phillips and Thrift, 1995). This can impede efforts to improve the quality of life for locals who could benefit from new developments stimulating the local economy and providing services (Cloke and Goodwin, 1992). The local economy also suffers with the introduction of middle-class households in that they are more likely to own personal transport, allowing them to travel outside the communities in search of cheaper goods and services, rather than using the ones within their communities (May, 2020). However, this is only one symptom of a larger problem with middle-class households taking advantage of the imaginative benefits of British countryside living without paying for the material benefits at the cost of the community around them. A key issue within this is the prevalence of second homes, currently owned by 175,000 households in England (Gallent, 2006: 98). Second homes also take up housing which is limited in rural areas thanks to a lack of funding and pressure groups to stop developers, leading to house prices being driven up possibly beyond the ability of locals to pay (May, 2020). Second homes also drive down social capital, this being the network of relationships within an area, as the occupants are not around enough to build relationships and rapport with members of the community (Gallent, 2006). This is exacerbated by the fact that the middle-class newcomers are unlikely to have anything in common with the community, being from a different class, area, occupation and overall culture, making them unlikely to participate in local social activities (Gallent, 2006). Whilst Cloke, Phillips and Thrift do acknowledge the existence of middle-class households which move into the community and make attempts to be a part of it, they by no means suggest that they are particularly common and these are overshadowed by those who do not (1995).This allows an existence in which the middle-class households reduce the availability of housing, driving up prices, without contributing to the local economy whilst influencing decisions on how to improve the local economy (May, 2020). This suggests the existence of a space which serves the middle-class even though they are not necessarily represented in the population and do not contribute socially or economically, making it a middle-class space at the expense of the existing communities.

In conclusion, I do believe that, with the exception of a few select households outlined by Cloke, Phillips and Thrift, counter-urbanisation in the form of the middle-class migrating to rural areas has rendered the British countryside a middle-class space (1995). By driving up house prices and blocking new developments whilst failing to support the local economy, the middle-class are willingly, or unwillingly, shaping the British countryside to be one which satisfies their dream of a rural idyll and excludes those which cannot afford to meet those expenses, which unfortunately often includes the community which is so idealised by the middle-class.

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Motivation and Consequences of the Middle Class in Rural Areas. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 29, 2023, from
“Motivation and Consequences of the Middle Class in Rural Areas.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
Motivation and Consequences of the Middle Class in Rural Areas. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2023].
Motivation and Consequences of the Middle Class in Rural Areas [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Jan 29]. Available from:
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