Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Splittsville, R.F.D."

That's the promotional blurb on the front page of the print edition of today's New York Times for a story on the rise in divorce and single-parent families in rural America, a phenomenon documented most recently by the 2010 Census. Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff report from Sioux County, Iowa, population 32,069, a county they apparently selected for this feature because it has seen one of the steepest rises in divorce rates since 1970. According to the 2010 Census, divorce has risen seven fold during this 40-year-period, though that figure is made less shocking when you consider that the divorce rate in Sioux County was especially low in 1970. (The journalists put the 1970 Sioux County figure in context by calling it commensurate with the national divorce rate in 1910).

Tavernise and Gebeloff explain how an urban and suburban phenomenon has gone rural:

The shifts that started in cities have spread to less populated regions — women going to work, gaining autonomy, and re-arranging the order of traditional families. Values have changed, too, easing the stigma of divorce.
Prof. June Carbone at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is quoted extensively in the article. She explains the phenomenon by reference to economics and culture:

In the bottom ranks, men have lost ground and women have gained. ... A blue-collar guy has less to offer today than he did in 1979, [thus creating] a mismatch between expectation and reality.
Carbone posits that more women are leaving these marriages--in part because they can. But this is not to suggest that rural women are typically well off.

Since 1990, class has become an increasingly reliable predictor of family patterns, Professor Carbone said. College-educated Americans are now more likely to get married and stay married than those with only a high school diploma, a change from 20 years ago, she said, when differences were much smaller.

Tavernise and Gebeloff note that a significant aspect of the rural-urban gap is educational. While one in three city dwellers has a college degree, only one in six rural residents does.

Read more about single-parent and other vulnerable families in rural America here, here, and here.

1 comment:

RH said...

I recently read an NYT article that questions whether college is really worth its exorbitant expense nowadays:

I wonder, if we start to see a decrease in incomes for people with college degrees, if their propensity to stay married mentioned at the end your post will be reduced as well. If it does, that might mean marital stability depends more on economic prosperity rather than some sort of difference in values/culture between college-educated and high-school educated people. Interesting to think about.