Broken families, divorces and separations were once the problems of big city Americans. Divorce attorneys in Pasadena and in other large cities across the country have long been accustomed to a growing local divorce rate as the population continues to grow. New reports, however, are saying that divorce has exploded in rural parts of the country once synonymous with old-fashioned family values. Experts attribute the dramatic increase in divorce to a rapidly-changing economic environment, new opportunities for women and new challenges for the rural family.
The New York Times reported last week that Sioux County, Iowa, has seen a sevenfold increase in divorce rates since 1970, according to census data. But divorce isn't only rising in Iowa: Other rural areas have seen a huge jump, too. Divorced folks populated cities and suburbs forty years ago, but "geographic distinctions have all but vanished and now for the first time, rural American are just as likely to be divorced as city dwellers," according to the Times analysis.
While small rural towns still exist, the families who live there have changed, sociology professor at Cornell University Daniel T. Licther tells the Times.
"Rural families are going through this incredible transformation," he says.
Some of those changes include women entering the workforce and gaining independence and loosening of the stigma of divorce. Women in the region are now following the lead of their big city counterparts by getting an education and leaving blue-collar marriages.
Mariua Kelfalas, an author and professor at St. Joesph's University, says families in rural America are in the midst of experiencing a culture shock when it comes to divorce.
"The cultural narrative about marriage - you get a job, you marry your sweetheart, you buy a house, you educate your kids - has been torn to shreds," she says. "Without that economic foundation, the story cannot support itself."
Poverty, men losing their jobs and couples married too young are also pointed out as potential causes for the increase in rural divorce.