Rural economics are the basis for a social science that focuses on a variety of issues that specifically affect rural communities. Agricultural economics is one topic of study within this discipline that includes various aspects of markets for food production, farming economies and agribusiness. Another discipline, environmental economics, analyzes the costs and benefits of natural resource use. Finally, regional economic development is concerned with the unique challenges that smaller communities face as they try to stimulate local economies. Possible careers for a student of rural economics might include economic analyst, agribusiness manager or researcher.
Agricultural economics is one area of study within the discipline of rural economics. It involves examining relationships between groups involved in the agricultural system, including farmers, retail food stores, wholesalers, distributors and processors. Researchers in the field of agricultural economics also study the effects of factors such as globalization and technological changes on food production. Those who study the agricultural aspects of rural economics also learn about the specific characteristics and overall operation of this market sector. Agribusiness, which refers to food production by large corporations rather than small farmers, is a significant part of agricultural economics.
A second part of rural economics is called environmental economics. In this field, researchers study the ways that economic markets and financial interests can negatively or positively affect areas that are rich in natural resources. One prominent area of study in this discipline is conducting cost benefit analyses of natural resource use to demonstrate that sustainable practices can yield a greater economic benefit than environmentally unsustainable methods. Unlike conventional economics, environmental economics attempts to quantify the financial costs of depleting Earth's natural reserves. Environmental economics does not study rural areas exclusively, but they are an area of focus because they often are rich in natural resources.
Still another part of rural economics is rural economic development. It involves overcoming the unique challenges faced by rural communities as they attempt to improve their local economies. People who are interested in regional economic development study individual households' decision making and the ways that it affects the functioning of the larger market. Rural development is also concerned with the issues of poverty and unemployment in small communities.
Career options for students of rural economics can vary greatly depending of the specific area of study. Those focusing on agricultural economics might work in agribusiness as managers. Students who get degrees in environmental economics could work as analysts for a variety of private corporations or nonprofit organizations. Many rural economists also choose to get doctoral degrees and embark on research careers.