From our previous topic you are now aware of theconcept and strategies of rural development. The topic of discussion in thistopic is the characteristics and major institutions of rural society.

After studying the topic, you are expected to haveachieved the objectives listed below.

After studying this, you should be able to:

·outline the characteristics of ruralarea

·explain the characteristics of rurallife

·discuss vividly the major institutionsin rural society.

Characteristics of Rural Area andRural Life

The concept of rurality has various meanings to peoplein different fields. For ease of quantification, population size has long beenused as the basis of dichotomy between rural and urban areas by geographers andpolitical administrators.

For example, in Nigeria, rural areas have been definedas areas with a population less than 5,000 in 1956, less than 10,000 in 1963and less than 20,000 today. It could be stated that based on size some designatedrural areas have services and infrastructure similar to those in urban areasand with rapid changes in population size. This use of size often is renderedmeaningless.

Besides, many rural areas are dynamically modernizing.This gives rise to the concept of rural urban continuum. It maintains thatcommunities cannot be forced into two categories but should be seen torepresent various stages of modernization on a linear scale. For example whilecities as Lagos and Kaduna may extend urban characteristics maximally, somecommunities are typically rural, and between the two extremes are foundcommunities at various stages of modernization.

Rural area, whether indeveloped or developing countries of the world is of great significance in viewof the fact that the area is richly endowed with abundant human and naturalresources. Ekong, (2003) asserted that in Nigeria, the importance of the ruralareas also lies in the fact that over 70 percent of the population live andderive their livelihood in the rural areas.

Rural area is characterized by:

  1. High level ofpoverty, especially among those in women headed households;
  2. Endemically lowproductivity;
  3. Smallness ofcultivable land owned by a farmer;
  4. Technicalinefficiency of agriculture due to poor production methods;
  5. Low per capitalincome of the average rural dweller,
  6. Socialinfrastructures including educational facilities, health facilities, watersupply, electricity supply and communication facilities are poor relative tothe level in the urban sector;
  7. Physicalinfrastructures including transportation facilities and irrigation facilitiesare generally poor;
  8. Institutionalinfrastructures including rural credit and financial institutions, co-operativesocieties and farmers unions, agricultural research institution are either weakor ineffective, and
  9. Comparativelylower level of living in the rural than urban areas.

Both rural and urban people have their owncharacteristics, though the interest here is the characteristics of rural life.

These characteristics are best and most easilydiscerned by comparing them with those of urban life. Some such rural urban differences are:

  1. General Environment and Orientation to Nature. Rural people because of theirgeographic location in rural areas are closely associated with nature. Theyhave constantly to contend with natural elements – rain, heat, frost, snow, anddrought – over which they have no control. For farmers these elements arevital. Rural dwellers may, therefore, build up beliefs and convictions aboutnature – a pattern of thought and philosophy of life – that are very differentfrom those of an urban dweller who lives removed from nature.
  2. Occupation: The majoroccupation in most rural areas of the world is farming. There arenon-agricultural occupations in rural areas, but these are secondary ineconomic importance. In some areas farming is a business or an industry, but inothers it operates largely as a way of life – a family occupation. Furthermore, in urban areas occupationalpursuits tend to be specialized. A man may work in a factory at a lathe or at astamping machine turning out hundreds of similar paths; he may develop thespecialized skills of manager, foreman, or executive. A farmer on the otherhand, must usually be competent in variety of skills – soil conservation andimprovement of fertility; machine repair; some skills as agronomist as heselects and grows crops; some skills as entomologist and plant pathologists ashe protects his crops from pests, diseased weeds; skills as veterinarian andanimal husbandry-man as he cares for his livestock and protects them fromdisease; and skills of agricultural economics as business manager as he handlesthe marketing distribution, overall planning and operation of his farmingenterprise. Farmers thus have a wide area of specialization as compared withurban workers.
  3. Size of Community: the rural community is always smaller than the urban community.Agricultural occupations by their very nature call for higher land-to-man ratiothan industry does, and consequently, rural areas have a low population persquare mile or kilometre. Farmland may vary in size depending on the type of farmingpractised, but enough land must be available to raise crops and livestock as apaying proposition. A rural community is hence a small community – much smallerthan an urban community.
  4. Density of Population: Density of population and “rurality” are negativelycorrelated. Thus, as population density increases the community moves in thedirection of being classified as urban; and the pattern of settlement changessomewhat from individual family dwelling houses to multi-family buildings withflats and apartments.
  5. Homogeneity and Heterogeneity. Homogeneity or similarity of such social and psychologicalcharacteristics in the population as language, beliefs, mores, and patterns ofbehaviour, is found much more in rural than in urban areas. Being part of asmall community, members of a village share common interests and majoroccupations through frequent face-to-face contacts. A city, on the other hand,has a heterogeneous population, comprised of persons from a wide variety ofsub-cultures -many interests, cultures, occupations, patterns of behaviour andeven languages make up the widely heterogeneous city population.
  6. Social Differentiation: The heterogeneity of a city’s population by necessityindicates a high degree of social differentiation. City services, itsutilities, and educational, recreational, religious, business, and residentialfacilities are therefore purposefully organized with division of labour andmutual interdependence. In contrast, the segments of rural society, beinghighly homogeneous in nature, are relatively independent, with a low degree ofsocial differentiation.
  7. Social Stratification (Please go back here for detail).
  8. Social Mobility. Social mobility refers to the movement from one social group to another;occupational mobility from one occupation to another, and territorial mobilityfrom rural to urban areas, from urban to rural areas, or within the rural orurban areas. Because of the heterogeneous urban population, the concentration ofinstitution, more opportunities for mobility exist; hence a higher degree ofsocial and occupational mobility exists in urban than in rural areas. Inaddition, mobility from rural to urban areas is greater than urban to rural,although the latter does exist and in some countries, such as the United Statesof America, is quite marked.
  9. Social Interaction. The pattern and type of social interaction in rural areas contrastssignificantly with those in urban areas both in qualitative and quantitativeaspects. The following stand out as more important differences between ruraland urban areas in respect of social interaction:
    1. Ruralpopulation. Smaller, less dense, and possessing lower mobility than urbanpopulations, will also have fewer personal contacts per individual. Thecontacts through various media of communication are also lower in rural areas.A city dweller is literally surrounded by radio, television, magazines,posters, newspapers and many other sophisticated media that are a part of citylife.
    1. As there is aquantitative difference in social contacts so also there is a qualitativedifference. Urban contacts may be frequent, but they tend to be more cursory,formal and impersonal. Rural contacts, however, are more face-to-face, informaland personal. On the other hand, in rural communities the area of contact is spatiallymore limited and narrower than the area of contact of urban communities.Contacts in urban areas seem to converge from a wide geographical area.
  10. Social Control. Because of personal and informal contacts, size and homogeneity of ruralcommunities, and other factors, social pressure by the community in rural areasis strong, and conformity to social norms is more by informal social pressure thanby other means of social control. In urban areas control is more by formal,impersonal means of law – prescribed rules and regulations with penalties forinfringement.
  11. Leadership Pattern. Choice of leadership in rural areas tends to be more on the basis of theknown personal qualities of the individual than in urban areas. Mainly becauseof far greater faceto- face contacts and more intimate knowledge of individualsthan is possible in urban areas.
  12. Standard of Living. Home conveniences, public utilities, educational, recreational andreligious facilities and other facilities for living can be provided ifsupported by a sufficient population base. While urban areas have such concentrationand density of population and are able to provide these conveniences, ruralcommunities usually do not.
  13. Social Solidarity. Social solidarity, or cohesiveness and unity, for rural and urbancommunities are created by different factors in each. In rural areas, cohesionand unity results from common traits, similarity of experience, commonobjectives that are shared by rural people: informal non-contractual personalrelationships. Unity and cohesiveness in urban areas, on the other hand, are basedon differences and dissimilarities, division of labour, interdependence,specialization, or impersonal, strictly formal and contractual kinds ofrelationships.

Rural-Urban Differences – The Closing Gap. With rapidincrease in communication; progressive and rapid breaking down of isolation of hithertoscheduled rural areas; rapidly increasing contacts, needs and wants of ruralpeople; and increases in borrowing and diffusion of ideas between urban andrural areas, the gap of difference between rural and urban life styles has andwill continue to narrow. Will this lead to a complete closure of the gap orwill there always be a lag of the rural behind the urban in the face of rapidtechnological and other changes?

While there may not be ready answers, these and othersimilar questions could be raised within the total complex of social andcultural change in rural societies.


  1. In Nigeria,rural areas have been defined as areas with a population less than ………..in1956, less than ……………in 1963 and less than ……………today
  2. The majoroccupation of most rural areas of the world is ……………………

Major Institutions in Rural Society

Generally recognized are five basic institutions inboth rural and urban society: the family, religion, the economy, government,and education.

The family:

The family is the most multifunctional of all institutionsin society, and is a system of organized relationships involving workable anddependable ways of meeting basic social needs. More specifically the familycommonly fulfils the following tasks in society:

  1. Sex regulation;
    1. Reproductionand perpetuation of the family and human race;
    1. Socialisation;
    1. Provision ofeconomic maintenance and livelihood in many cultures;
    1. Provision oflove, affection and security to the individuals, and
    1. Provision ofclass status to the individual of the family into which he/she has been born.

Within the basic institution of the family aresecondary institutions such as engagement, marriage, courtship andrelationships with the family into which marriage has taken place.

The specific ways in which these functions and tastesare carried out are defined by the culture of the society concerned, involvingsystems of social roles, norms of behaviour, and prescribed rules andregulations governing forms and procedures involved in these relationships.

For example, there are two major types of compositionof the family: the conjugal family – consisting of husband, wife, and children– and the consanguine family – founded on blood relations of a large number of peopleand consisting of a large group of blood relatives with a fringe of spouses.The former type is common in western cultures and the latter in the east andAfrica. Further, the number of persons united in marriage may vary according tothe system prevalent in the culture: monogamous (one man to one wife),polyandrous (one woman to more than one man), or polygamous (one man to morethan one woman). Similarly, systems of mate selection, premarital relationship,courtship, engagement, and marriage exhibit wide variation all over the world.

As in case of other institutions, the family inNigeria and in other parts of the world are in the midst of change, and manyfunctions of the family have been transferred to other institutions in society.The family has tremendous influence on the individual; his behaviour and hisaction for it mould him from infancy and has significant influence on the developmentof his personality.


From antiquity man has sought answers to questions concerningthe mysteries of his own creation, his relationship to the supernatural, asatisfying philosophy of life, and life after death. In his searching he hasbuilt up a category of individuals who would devote their specific attention tothese matters as possible intermediaries and religious guides, he has developedrituals and ceremonies for appeasement and propitiation of the supernatural;these rituals, based on beliefs, convictions, and the ceremonies, and symbolsaccompanying prescribed roles and prescribed patterns of behaviour togetherconstitute religion.

Most religions of the world have the followingelements:

  1. “A set ofbeliefs regarding the ultimate power in the universe
  2. A set ofbeliefs regarding the idea and proper pattern of behavior
  3. A set ofceremonial ways of expressing these beliefs” (Rose, 1957).

Each of the elements will vary in form, in observance,in the response they evoke from individuals and in influence according to theculture concerned – together, these elements prescribe specific lines ofaction, attitudes, and values desirable under varying conditions according to whichman is expected to behave.

Religion also provides a foundation for mores ofsociety. Hence religious sanctions are sought for certain desirable patterns ofbehavior to persist in society in the form of mores. In doing so, violation ofthe pattern of behaviour then become violation against divine order. Thus, manytaboos in various cultures have religious sanction, e.g. the taboo againsteating of pork in Muslim and Jewish cultures has definite and precise religioussanction.

Another function of religion is to provide a meanswhereby man can face the crises and vicissitudes of life with strength andfortitude.

The religious beliefs, forms of worship, objectives ofworship, rituals, ceremonies of the people of the world are varied and mostnumerous, but most are basic in the profound influence that they exercise onthe behaviour of individuals, groups and society as a whole in almost every aspectof life . Secondary institutions within the major institution of religioninclude rituals, forms of worship, and organized groups for propagatingreligions.


Also referred to as the political institution, governmentadministers the regulatory functions of law and order and maintains security insociety. It provides both the means for regulating the behaviour of individualswithin society in accordance with required norms and protection from external aggression.Within this major institution are secondary institutions such as militarysystems, police forces, legal systems, and diplomatic relations with othercountries. In various cultures of the world government has tended to assumemany functions of other institutions, e.g. the formal education of children,physical protection of home, fixation of prices, credit, and the regulation ofmarriage conditions. Another tendency or trend has been an increase in thenumber and scope of its functions.

Forms or constitution of government, and the procedureand manner of regulation depend on the accepted patterns of behaviour within a society.Such patterns may start, for instance, from a government with supreme powervested in an individual or small group to a democratic system of government.

Economy or Maintenance.

Such institutions provide basic physical subsistencefor society and meet basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and othernecessities. Included are the economic institution of production – agriculture,industry, and the distribution, exchange and consumption of commodities, goods andservices necessary for human survival. Secondary institutions included withinthe major economic institutions are credit and banking systems, advertising,cooperatives etc. Means of livelihood show wide relationships not only invarious parts of the world but within societies.


Educational institutions are those which seek to socializeindividuals in society or introduce them in formal ways into their social andcultural world. Every new generation must be prepared and trained to play arole in society. This process, referred to as the process of socialization,commences informally at home and then formally in an institution of education.

Educational institutions have emerged from thisbackground – from the home and the church, the mosque to the formal village school,college and university. In most societies, however, the function of providingeducation mainly has been assumed by the government. Education as aninstitution in various parts of the world seeks to fulfil its function oftransmission of cultural heritage, social integration of socialization andpersonal development in various forms and in various ways that are sociallyacceptable and culturally defined. This major institution is of tremendous influenceon the behaviour of rural people, their inter-relationships and the moulding ofbehaviour and personality of individuals and groups.


  1. Listthe major institutions in rural society
  2. What are the elementsin most religions of the world?


In this post, we discussed the characteristics ofrural area and rural life and major institutions in rural society. From allthis you would have learnt that both rural and urban people have their owncharacteristics and the major institutions that exist in the rural areas arealso found in urban areas.


The main points in this unit are:

  • The concept ofrurality has various meanings to people in different fields.
  • Rural area,whether in developed or developing countries of the world is of greatsignificance in view of the fact that the area is richly endowed with abundanthuman and natural resources.
  • Both rural andurban people have their own characteristics. Though the interest here is thecharacteristics of rural life, these characteristics are best and most easilydiscovered by comparing them with those of urban life.
  • There are fivebasic institutions in both rural and urban society, namely, (a) Family (b)religion (c) Economy (d) Government (e) Education


  1. Outline brieflythe characteristics of rural area
  2. Discussrural-urban differences
  3. Writeexplanatory notes on: (a) Social control (b) Social mobility (c) Socialinteraction (d) Social stratification (e) Social solidarity.


Chitambar, J.B. (1973). Introductory rural sociology:A Synopsis Of

Concepts and Principles. Wiley Eastern Limited, India, pp 129-181.

Ekong, E.E. (2003). Poverty and Rural Development in Nigeria: An

introduction to ruralsociology. DoreEducational Publishers,

Uyo, Nigeria, pp 340-371.

Igbokwe, E.M. (2005). Concepts in rural andagricultural sociology. In

S.F. Adedoyin (edn). AgriculturalExtension in Nigeria. A

publication of AgriculturalExtension Society of Nigeria, pp 91-100.

Ladele, A.A. (2005). Rural development process and practice. In S.F.

Adedoyin (edn). AgriculturalExtension in Nigeria. A publication

by Agricultural Extension Society ofNigeria, pp 139-144.

Rose, A.M. (1957). Sociology: The study of HumanRelations Knopf

Wiley, New York.