According to recent reports, residents in rural areas are now as likely as their urban counterparts to file for divorce, marking a significant upswing in rural divorce rates in California and throughout the country.

According to a report from the New York Times, an analysis of United States census data revealed that residents of rural areas now have a divorce rate that is equal to residents of urban areas. The equal divorce rate marks the first time in 40 years that divorces have not been significantly more concentrated in large cities and metropolitan areas than in rural areas.

Researchers believe that the data points to significant shifts in family values and personal education levels that have contributed to the increased divorce rate. Specifically, women in rural areas are now more likely to pursue higher education and earn a college degree, which gives them a greater sense of independence and makes them less likely to rely on their spouse to meet their financial and other needs.

In addition, education level has become a predictor for divorce in much of the country. College-educated Americans are now more likely to get and stay married than those with a high school education, which is a change from just 20 years ago.

Researchers also hypothesize that family values have shifted over the last few decades. The negative stigma previously associated with divorce has decreased dramatically in rural areas and throughout the country, giving many couples the freedom to seek a divorce without risking the shame of their family or neighbors. In general, residents of both rural and urban areas feel that they can now determine the course of action that is best suited to their current situation and personal needs.

Source: New York Times, "Once Rare in Rural America, Divorce is Changing the Face of Its Families", Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, 23 March 2011