Toward a digital urban exodus

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An urban exodus led by self-employees

It would not have been an urban exodus, as long as rural areas could not be considered as real attractive economic areas. But, by saying “attractive economic areas”, I do not mean a transposition of successful models during the industrial era. The urban exodus should not be viewed with the same outdated ideas. Rural areas have never been adapted by people who had a salaried position. The rural exodus mostly concerns independent workers (farmers and artisans), who have left their work to become employees. It is a fair bet to make that the urban exodus would be the inverse of this phenomenon. There is a strong correlation between the urbanisation movement in the Western world and the number of freelancers.

In 1830, in a still rural France, there were around 50% of self-employed workers. In 1930, they were only 33%. After a stabilization, due to the Great Depression (which was basically a crisis of industrial Capitalism) and the World War, the number of self-employed workers fell again. In 2007, they represented less than 10% of the working age population, as shown in this excellent report titled: “The Self-employed Worker, a Figure of the XXIst Century”. The correlation between industrialisation, rural exodus and self-employment is strong.  

However the number of self-employed workers is still increasing in all industrial countries. In France, there were 9.6% in 2007 and 11.6% by the end of 2012. Also, the number of freelancers are at an estimated 35 million in the US and 27 million in Europe. This rapid increase is also followed by a reevaluation of freelancers when compared to stable employees. Thus, the urban exodus will be mainly led by the freelancers.

Rural areas are broad and sparsely populated areas. They require autonomy and versatility, which are less compatible with the salaried status. They are more suitable for independent workers who are able to manage their daily schedule and travels.

In the agricultural world, it is impossible to assess work in terms of hourly productivity according to a specific time table. What matters then, is to be available during some key moments, such as crops, weather conditions, opportunity or incidents. This quality is essential for freelancers and entrepreneurs within knowledge based economy. Self-employed people can telework much easier than traditionally employed worker, since they do not need to be localized in an area where the workforce is available. The self-employed worker is mobile and could truly enjoy the low costs of rural areas.  

Emmanuelle Pometan, founder of Agence Nouvelle Culture, left Paris 6 months ago to settle in the region of  la Drôme where she is working most of the time. She only goes to Paris three times a month. “I did not lose any clients since I settled outside of Paris, and I did not miss any meetings. On the other hand, my company’s image did not suffer, in fact my clients find my workstyle rather modern.”

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