I came across this phrase when I was reading a research paper. Here's a quote from the abstract:

I find that the urban-rural gap accounts for 40% of mean country inequality and much of its cross-country variation.

After doing some research on the internet, I've found out that "urban-rural gap" is frequently used on Chinese and Taiwanese news sites. Personally, I've never seen this wording before so I'm not sure if this is a direct translation from Chinese. Is this a proper English term for a disparity between urban and rural areas or just an artifact of a word-for-word translation?

3 Answers 3


Google ngrams (which searches many published books) gives some usage for the phrase "urban-rural", which peaks towards about 1990. There are no hits for "urban-rural gap".

The usage of "urban-rural" varies. You can have "urban-rural areas" or "urban-rural" interactions. These are in in British English and American English results. I think that the reason that your search is skewed towards Chinese and Taiwanese news sites is likely to do with current study on the urban-rural gap in those countries. It may be a direct translation in those instances, but it is an understandable combination of English words, and has been used in previous works, too.


As a native speaker of UK English, former language teacher and currently a full-time translator, the phrase seems perfectly natural to me. It's just another way of describing the difference between town and country.

  • 1
    urban areas and rural areas. So yes, it's fine. English allows for these things, as I am sure the OP knows.
    – Lambie
    Mar 7, 2019 at 16:50

the urban-rural gap is not a phrase I've heard used by US news outlets but would assume it refers to a disparity of some kind, probably in income, between urban populations on average and rural populations.

P.S. The pattern the adjective-adjective noun is well-established. The pattern often presents an opposition. Compare:

the male-female divide

the Catholic-Protestant schism

the lunar-solar conflict

the liberal-conservative split

You will sometimes see a slash:

the federalist/anti-federalist debate

P.P.S. gap is somewhat different than divide inasmuch as gap often implies a difference in level, that is, gap is used in quantitative rather than qualitative circumstances. Compare: the male-female pay gap. It isn't just that the two entities have different or competing outlooks; with gap one of them is used as the touchstone against which the other is measured.

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    Can you suggest why it is a natural grammatical form ('urban-rural' is noun attribute, but even moreso a noun-noun attribute)?
    – Mitch
    Mar 6, 2019 at 14:24
  • @Mitch: What do you mean by "natural grammatical form"? Not ungrammatical? urban and rural are adjectives, BTW, but adjectives can be nominalized. I don't see it in any way different from phrases like the male-female divide.
    – TimR
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:45
  • TRomano: oops, right, both adjectives. The OP is asking if 'urban-rural' is grammatical, and it is, even formally. But I don't have a copy of CGEL to check if has been recognized. I'm sure it's not a pattern taught in EFL classes.
    – Mitch
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:56
  • @Mitch. Where exactly does OP ask that? In the title? "proper English"?
    – TimR
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:57
  • Yes, the title.
    – Mitch
    Mar 6, 2019 at 22:59

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