Date of Award

Summer 8-26-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Jessica Leahy

Second Committee Member

Kathleen Bell

Third Committee Member

Mindy Crandall

Additional Committee Members

Catharine Biddle


The out-migration of rural youth is a critical issue for the sustainability of rural communities. Youth out-migration poses challenges for rural communities as they strive to address workforce shortages, population decline, and broader social and economic issues. The departure of youth from rural areas can decrease the diversity of local workforce skills, change the vitality of communities, and undermine community and economic development efforts. In addition, certain groups of young people in rural areas, such as queer young adults, face additional identity-based challenges that can influence their migration decisions and distinguish aspects of their decision-making from other youth. Exploring the residential aspirations of rural youth and queer young adults provides a means for better understanding drivers of youth out-migration and ways to attract and retain youth in rural communities. We used a mixed methods approach to better understand how different groups of young people living in rural areas, mainly students and queer young adults, experience attachment to the outdoors and form residential aspirations. By analyzing 2,027 survey responses from middle iii school and high school rural youth and 17 interviews with queer young adults attending college in a rural area, we advance understanding of how rural youth form their residential aspirations. Some of our results reveal higher outdoor place attachment is related to outdoor recreation engagement and higher chances of rural youth aspiring to live in a rural area. Other results show that queer rural youth desire to live in communities that value diversity, promote acceptance, and have accessible nature. Lastly, our work showed that queer rural youth value nature for more than just outdoor recreation, they also value it as a mental health resource. Our findings offer insights and recommendations for rural communities on how to attract and retain younger residents. One way is by offering ways to form place attachment in rural youth as they grow up, through maintaining outdoor spaces in the community and providing lots of opportunities for youth to spend time outdoors. Another suggestion is to promote inclusivity visibly within rural communities, an example being using symbols of acceptance such as pride flags in community spaces.