Max Rady College of Medicine

Concept: Urban / Rural Definitions

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Concept Description

Last Updated: 2002-06-15


    Numerous definitions have been used in MCHP projects to distinguish between urban and rural areas. Some of these are based on the Statistics Canada definitions.

1 - Statistics Canada - Prior to 1996

    Statistics Canada originally defined an area as urban if it has attained a population concentration of at least 1,000, and a population density of at least 400 per square kilometer. This definition changed with the 1996 Census; however, longitudinal studies that also include data from the 1986-1991 censuses use the 1991 definition.

    See 1991 & 1996 Census Definitions: Urban Area for the 1991 definition.

2 - Child Health Deliverable

    The definitions used in the Child Health deliverable were based on income quintiles and postal codes. Residents of Manitoba were placed into either urban or rural income quintiles based on their postal codes (municipal codes were not used).

    1. The postal codes were sorted into urban (Winnipeg and Brandon) and rural (all other RHAs).
    2. Postal codes were then sorted by average household income value (lowest to highest income), which was assigned based on publicly available census data from 1996 that provided household income at the Enumeration Area level.
    3. Next, postal code population values (specific to year 1996) were classified by average income from lowest income to highest income, so that approximately 20% of the population was present in each class. Each class of postal codes formed an income quintile, with the lowest income quintile representing areas with the lowest average income, and the highest income quintile representing areas with the highest average income.

      Note: Classification by postal codes adds a degree of error, in that the postal codes on our data often define where people receive their mail rather than where they live. But this error is minimized by the fact that the income values were grouped into quintiles. The 1996 census does not include some First Nations reserves, so the average income in those areas may be off.

3 - Statistics Canada - Enumeration Area

    Statistics Canada currently uses a definition that indicates the status of enumeration areas based on their population density and proximity to a census metropolitan area/census agglomeration. There are five classification codes:
    Code Enumeration Area (EA) urban/rural status
    1 Urban Core
    2 Urban Fringe
    3 Rural Fringe
    4 Urban Area outside CMAs/CAs
    5 Rural Area outside CMAs/CAs

    The "Why Not Healthy?" project grouped codes 1 and 2 together for an urban classification, and codes 3-5 formed the rural classification. Thus, Brandon, Winnipeg, Thompson, and Portage La Prairie, along with at least one EA of their fringe areas of St. Norbert, Birds Hill, Fort Whyte, and St. Adolphe were all classified as urban. All other areas were considered rural based on population density and/or proximity to a CMA.

    See 1991 & 1996 Census Definitions: Urban Area for the 1996 definition.

Related terms 



  • Statistics Canada. 1991 Census Dictionary. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 1992. 0-0.(View)
  • Statistics Canada. 1996 Census Dictionary. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada; 1999. 0-0. [Abstract] (View)

Contact us

Manitoba Centre for Health Policy
Community Health Sciences, Max Rady College of Medicine,
Rady Faculty of Health Sciences,
Room 408-727 McDermot Ave.
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, MB R3E 3P5 Canada