The New York Times has a piece in today’s paper showing that divorce in rural America is now about as common as divorce in the rest of America. The piece echoes the recent National Marriage Project report, “When Marriage Disappears,” which found that divorce is now much more common in Middle America than it used to be.
First, the reporters provided a typically adult-centric view of this miniature divorce revolution in rural America. The story closes with a middle-aged divorced woman (who has since remarried) saying in reference to the rise of divorce in rural America that “things are not so black and white. There are so many gray areas.” Well, this rural divorce revolution may look “gray” to a lot of the adults involved, but we now know from a large body of social science that the picture is considerably darker for many of the children caught up in this divorce revolution. And, they are nowhere to be found in this Times story.
Second, recent demographic history tells us that the divorce revolution is usually followed by a cohabitation revolution. This is because the divorce revolution tends to undercut young people’s faith in the institution of marriage. They then resort to cohabitation, both as a way of trying to prepare for marriage and as a way of hedging their relational bets. The problem, here, however is that more and more people end up of having kids in cohabiting unions. And such unions are notoriously unstable. So the cohabitation revolution seems to deliver more instability to children than did even the divorce revolution. And, needless to say, children do not thrive on instability.
But if rural America keeps following in the demographic footsteps of the rest of the country, it looks like more and more rural children will have to take a turn on the very same relational carousel that other American children have had to endure in recent years.
— W. Bradford Wilcox is director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.