An Iowa county’s divorce rate today is almost seven times what it was in the 1970s, and it’s symptomatic of a wide-ranging trend: For the first time in history, rural Americans are as likely as urbanites to be divorced, the New York Times finds in a look at Census data. The shift accompanies a number of other changes, including greater independence for women, more of whom are working. “In the bottom ranks, men have lost ground and women have gained,” says a professor.
In some ways, Sioux County remains highly traditional: 80% of residents are members of a major denomination church, versus 36% nationwide. But “a blue-collar guy has less to offer today than he did in 1979,” the expert notes. That can “create a mismatch between expectation and reality” that drives women to exit marriages—particularly as the stigma against divorce weakens. Meanwhile, the county is shifting in other ways: McDonald’s has arrived, young people are leaving, and education has become a clear dividing line: those who attended college are more likely to marry and stay married than those who didn’t.