The latest census figures are showing something new in parts of the heartland: divorce.
From the New York Times:
In the 1970s, the divorce rate was so low in this rural northwest Iowa County that it resembled the rest of America in the 1910s. Most of its 28,000 residents were churchgoers, few of its women were in the work force, and divorce was simply not done.
So it is a bitter mark of modernity that even here, divorce has swept in, up nearly sevenfold since 1970, giving the county the unwelcome distinction of being a standout in this category of census data.
Divorce is still less common here than the national average, but its sharp jump illustrates a fundamental change in the patterns of family life.
Forty years ago, divorced people were more concentrated in cities and suburbs. But geographic distinctions have all but vanished, and now, for the first time, rural Americans are just as likely to be divorced as city dwellers, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.
“Rural families are going through this incredible transformation,” said Daniel T. Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University.
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.
“In the bottom ranks, men have lost ground and women have gained,” said June Carbone, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and co-author of “Red Families v. Blue Families.”
“A blue-collar guy has less to offer today than he did in 1979,” Professor Carbone added. Those shifting forces, she said, “create a mismatch between expectation and reality” that can result in women becoming frustrated and leaving, because now they can.