Steve Chapman

Nor is the countryside exempt from social problems often associated with the inner city -- such as, if you'll forgive me, out-of-wedlock births. The federal government apparently doesn't tabulate these births according to whether they occur in urban or rural areas. But it does break them down by state, and wide-open spaces are no guarantee of responsible sexual behavior.

The highest rates of births to unwed mothers are in Mississippi and New Mexico, both of which have high rural populations. The most urban states, New Jersey and California, do better than the average in out-of-wedlock births.

It's true that crime is much more common in the city than in the country. Is that because the sight of cattle grazing saps felonious impulses, or is it something else? Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, thinks the explanation is pretty simple. "It's a matter of social control," he says. "Small towns have networks of family and friends, and most everyone knows everyone else."

This deters crime in two ways. First, you don't want to damage your reputation among people who may ostracize you for doing wrong. Second, you don't want to rob someone who can easily identify you to police -- and in a small town, that limits your pool of victims. Crime is more common in cities because they offer a target-rich environment and much less chance of being spotted by someone who can tell the cops your name, address and 3rd-grade teacher.

One of these days, the 80 percent of Americans who live in more populated areas may tire of being obliquely insulted. Most urbanites and suburbanites don't think they're any better than their country cousins. But Palin might want to think twice before telling them they're worse.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

©Creators Syndicate