Objectives. Despite substantial evidence of socioeconomic differences in the use of breast and cervical cancer screening, the mechanisms explaining these differences, and therefore their policy implications are not well understood. We investigated the way that education and income influence rural women's use of mammograms and Pap tests, including financial barriers to medical care, knowledge and attitudinal barriers, and nonfinancial factors related to health-care access. Methods. Data were from a population-based telephone survey of 2,346 rural Wisconsin women aged 40 years and older. Logistic regression analyses and simulation exercises were conducted. Results. The strongest barriers to screening in this rural population were nonfinancial impediments to access. Removing economic barriers did not lead to significant increases in screening when other types of barriers were present. Conclusions. Policies and interventions that focus on the most visible differences that exist between rural women of differing socioeconomic levels (ie, differences in the ability to afford health services) and do not simultaneously address knowledge, attitudinal, and health-care access barriers will fall short of their goal to increase breast and cervical cancer screening.