Four years ago today, I got married in a small and lovely ceremony in our old apartment in a sleepy northern burg. Shortly after that, my bride and I pulled up stakes for Washington, DC — the city that never… something.
It was probably the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. My wife is truly an incredible person, and she has assisted my personal and professional development in ways I could have never imagined. Plus she’s quite the looker.
Getting hitched was not necessarily in our grand plans. Neither of us are inclined to follow traditional footpaths, and marriage wasn’t an institution we felt any particular identification with. I certainly understand it better now, but it’s none of my business if people wed or not. I do, however, think the option should exist for all consenting adults, regardless of sexual orientation.
“Traditional” marriage is often touted as a fundamental component of a civilized society in which people adhere to organized religion and fend off taxes, unions and immigrants. Which is why I find this New York Times story about the rising divorce rate in rural America so interesting.
Yes, I am making the grand generalization that those in rural parts of the country are more likely to be socially conservative and religious. I can do this, because I’ve lived there (granted, it was not the Midwest.)
You might think the rising divorce rate can be pegged to economic stresses. That’s surely part of it, but the article shines light on another factor: education.
Just one in six rural residents have college degrees, far fewer than in cities, where one in three do. Nationally, there were about 121 million married adults and 26 million divorced people in 2009, compared with about 100 million married and 11 million divorced people in 1980.
Education drew a dividing line for Nancy Vermeer, a 52-year-old resident of Sioux County, Iowa. She had married her high school sweetheart, a young man from a farming family. He never went further than high school, but she went on to college, and later earned a master’s degree. He worked in a window factory. She became a music teacher. He gambled. They grew apart. Eventually, he asked for a divorce.
“I grew more confident,” Ms. Vermeer said. “We were totally different people.”
Lurking in this story is the subtext that the only way to “keep yer woman on the farm” is to deny her information about the outside world. There’s also a bit of race-baiting in its suggestion that rural white folk are experiencing a culture-crippling epidemic of babies born out-of-wedlock.
Maria Kefalas, a sociology professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and co-author of “Hollowing Out the Middle,” a 2009 book about the migration of the educated class from rural Iowa, said that changes in families have been profound. She noted that the alarm sounded by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 about the rise of out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans applies to the country as a whole today: One in three babies is born to unmarried parents.
“It has hit the whitest, most married, most idyllic heart of America — Iowa,” Professor Kefalas said.
O NOES! THE WHITE CHRISTIANS ARE BESIEGED BY MORAL TURPITUDE! Gimmie a break.
Look, marriage can be difficult. And, like raising a child, it’s not something to be entered into on a lark (or because Pastor McBigot told you to). But it can be a truly blessed thing, even outside the auspices of religion and societal convention. My wife and I are proof. Marriage is about a mutual contribution of love, tenderness and commitment. If White Christian America can’t live up to those ideals, it’s nobody’s fault but their own.