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Faded to Gray: Divorce Increases in Rural America, Traditional Roles Are No Longer Black and White

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The New York Times recently published an article noting the significant increase of divorce in rural America.  Their polls revealed that, for the first time in history, rural Americans are “just as likely to be divorced as city dwellers.”

The rural Americans of Sioux County, Iowa, ponder the causes of this cultural shift in their town and cite education, class, and women in the workforce as reasons for the changes in values and the town’s culture.

As county residents told their stories and viewpoints, higher education was blamed for one couple’s rift and eventual separation.  Upon receiving more education than her husband, a wife claimed, “I grew more confident.  We were totally different people.”

As that attitude — we became totally different people than we were when we married — justifies divorce, we must understand that it has huge ramifications not only for the individual but for families and society as well.  Education itself is not the root of divorce, of course; it is simply a means by which women feel more empowered and confident.  As wives become more self-sufficient (and sadly, therefore, sometimes become overly assertive, opinionated, and have less respect for their mates), many husbands, who traditionally have been the provider and the head of the household, are sometimes at a loss about their role and how to be the leader of the family, thus leading to divorce.

Maria Kefalas, a sociology professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia told the New York Times, “It has hit the whitest, most married, most idyllic heart of America — Iowa.  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.”

Though overall divorce rates remain relatively stable; they are too high.  The facts surrounding divorce are sobering with “121 million married adults and 26 million divorced people in 2009, compared with about 100 million married and 11 million divorced people in 1980.”

These findings and observations on divorce reflect a dramatic attitude shift: The traditional view of marriage — divorce is not an option, a black-and-white perspective that the commitment is for “better or worse” for a lifetime — has faded to a wide swath of gray, where numerous causes, including “no fault,” can rationalize a divorce.

Click here to view the New York Times article.