We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Red-Blue Divide: Economic Realities Challenge Family Values

Thanks to our education and serious lifestyle choices, my wife and I have been able to enjoy giving our daughter what some might call a solid traditional upbringing, with both mom and dad home as much as possible to guide the child toward adulthood. In four and a half years, the Divine Miss K has had less than 12 hours of paid outsider babysitting, along with healthy doses of Grandma time. Otherwise, if our child comes out messed up, it's totally our fault.

If you didn't know us better, you might think Erin and I are traditional red-state family values voters: Dad as breadwinner, Mom mostly on stay-at-home patrol (and cooking really yummy meals). But a new book by legal scholars Naomi Cahn and June Carbone finds our values align pretty solidly with what they call "blue family" values: deferring marriage and childbirth to achieve some educational and economic gains first. "Red families," say Cahn and Carbone, see marriage and childbirth as the path to adulthood and thus encourage those activities sooner. Red families incline toward traditional gender roles as well.

Cahn and Carbone find that red families and the red states they fill with Republican/conservative votes have higher teen birth rates and higher divorce rates than blue families and blue Democrat/liberal states. What's happening here? Republican family values hypocrisy? Oh no—neocon fundies and us hippies alike are busting our chops to live up to our family values. It's just that the "red family system" doesn't fit our post-industrial economy:

Cahn: The red model of early marriage works really well if one breadwinner can support his family and where jobs are available and plentiful for high school grads. Unfortunately, that's not the economy we live in right now. In our economy, the more education you have, in most cases, the higher your income is going to be. It is hard to have a child and then provide the care you want and go to college to further your education. The red family model, while suited to particular times in the American economy and the American century, is not suited to needs of post-industrial economy that rewards investment in education and depends on two incomes as a way of family support.

...Cahn: The red family preaches breadwinner, and there is discontent when you want to be in the traditional breadwinner model and the economy won't allow that... In a red family, you might be working just at a minimum wage or you haven't had the time to further your education. Unfortunately you're less likely to be happy.

Carbone: The most recent studies show that couples who are less educated tend to have more traditional expectations about gender roles than college grads, but they also show that where the wife is working full-time and would prefer to have more time to spend with her children or in the home, she is very unhappy and more likely to divorce. The latest surveys show that couples who experience financial stress are more likely to divorce than they were a generation ago, and almost all twenty-something couples experience financial stress [emphases mine; Amy DePaul, "Why Do Red States Have the Worst 'Family Values'?" AlterNet, 2010.08.02].

As our esteemed SDSU philosophy prof David Nelson would have said, the higher levels of divorce among the traditional family values crowd is a hoop thing. Their worldview—their hoop—tells them that Dad ought to be able to go to work and make enough money to keep his family in pork chops and Sunday shoes, while Mom ought to be able to stay home and raise the kids right. Those values don't differ much from my wife's and mine. But in low-wage states like South Dakota, living those values is an enormous challenge. (78% of South Dakota kids younger than 6 have both parents working, the highest such percentage in the nation.) When your values tell you one thing and your wallet forces you to do something else, that's going to take a psychic toll. It busts your hoop... and maybe your family stability.

Cahn and Carbone cite Utah as a notable exception to the red-divorce trend. Utah has the lowest percentage of little kids with both parents working—just 52%. Cahn and Carbone say the shared religious commitment of Utahns provides more community support for putting family values into practice.

At the same time, Cahn and Carbone suggest that support for gay marriage may strengthen marriage and family values. Corrleation isn't causation, but consider: blue states tend to have more support for same-sex unions, and blue states have lower divorce rates. Hmm....

Just last week, I heard one of our county commissioners talk about creating a new position for a county zoning inspector. He said offering $30K for the job was reasonable, since there are plenty of other county employees working for that amount or less, and since we can find plenty of potential workers who can send their spouse out to work as well. When we build county staff and policy around the assumption that both spouses will work, we make it harder to attract people to our community who want to live out traditional family values and, as my wife and I manage, have at least parent around the house for Junior more often than not.

Granted, the county can't just double every employee's salary to allow every spouse to quit and head home. But when we talk about threats to family values, we need to spend less time looking for bogeymen we can "otherize" and demonize. Instead we "family values" advocates (aren't we all family values advocates?) should concentrate on changing the realities of the economic soup in which we all swim.


  1. Rebuttal or capitulation, Mr. Ellis, Mr. Jones, Mr. Nelson...?

  2. I've been baited too often by someone's interpretation of another's work to comment when I've not reviewed the accuracy of the work or the methodology of the work so I'm unwilling to treat either as credible or criticize them and non-credible.

    But, assuming Cory's read of the book is credible and consistent with the premise of the book, I will make some comments.

    They sound like elitists with an agenda.

    1) While some might defer marriage for educational or economic reasons, I think most defer until they find their life partner. Their attribution of "values" sounds self-serving.

    2) People who find marriage and childbirth as a pathway to adulthood sound immature. It has nothing to do with conservative or liberal views toward the government. Again, their attribution sounds self-serving.

    3) Regarding teen birth rates, according to guttmacher (pro-abortion organization), the ten states (ranging between 93 and 79 pregnancies per 1,000 teen women) the highest pregnancy are (in order) New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Delaware, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina. And the 10 states with the lowest are (in order) are New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah, Wisconsin, Mass., Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

    When you consider other tables, factors that definitely have greater correlation than where they live are race ethnicity.

    Let's look at the top states:

    New Mexico: 78% of teen pregnancies are Hispanic even though they are 43% of the population.

    Nevada: (data incomplete)

    Arizona: 68% of the teen pregnancies are Hispanic even though they are 31% of the population.

    Texas: 74% of teen pregnancies are Hispanic or Black even though they are 40% of the population.

    Mississippi: 61% of teen pregnancies are Black while only 37% of the population.

    I could do the same analysis of the lower states which don't have large percentages of minorities as compared to these other states.

    My point: The correlation of teen pregnancies are about issues other than political values and this proves they had more agenda than real analysis.

    Real analysis would have been to have polled the teens for political values or their families. To draw broad assumptions about states political views and then attribute them to an event that affects a smallsubset of the state is simpleton.

    Then for them to editorialize red values as something that sounds liek a caricature of hill billies (sorry hill billies, I don't mean to insult you. Just the caricature) while making "blue values" as something rational (postponing children until they are older) is a ludicrious statement when we are talking about TEEN births.

    I'm not going to do the divorce analysis. You do it. These guys are already not credible.

  3. (Note: I only read the article, not the book; my interpretation is likely incomplete as well.)

    I don't hear elitism in Cahn and Carbone's analysis. I think they are offering a reasonable discussion of some remarkable correlations.

    I don't take the position that every couple that gets married and has kids early is doomed or that every couple that waits will be happier. My wife's parents got married early, and things worked out fine. But multiply the phenomenon across society, and certain general trends come out. Get married early, have kids early, and you'll have a harder time making ends meet in the modern economy. Tighter budget and fewer options that square with your values will cause more stress, and more stress means more breakups.

    The authors acknowledge there are racial/ethnic factors that complicate the social model. They would likely ascribe much less certainty and generalization to their analysis than my brief blog post probably suggests.

    But i don't think they are editorializing red state values. I think they are saying that those values, which have a reasonable correlation with voting patterns and family patterns, are harder to put into practice in a modern economy that makes supporting a family on a single income and a high school education nearly impossible.

  4. [And don't sweat the solar-flare-induced duplicates too much; I've cleaned up the mess. :-) ]

  5. Cory,

    So in the end, the only thing of value in your mind from this entire thread is:

    "But i don't think they are editorializing red state values. I think they are saying that those values, which have a reasonable correlation with voting patterns and family patterns, are harder to put into practice in a modern economy that makes supporting a family on a single income and a high school education nearly impossible."

    So you agree with these?

    "Red families," say Cahn and Carbone, see marriage and childbirth as the path to adulthood and thus encourage those activities sooner." (I think this is elitism and condescending)

    "Red families incline toward traditional gender roles as well." (I think we just respect those who make this choice)

    Frankly, if you characterize their views accurately, they are snobs and probably don't even know a "red family."

  6. Better turn down the snob-meter, Troy: I think you've got it set too sensitive (somewhat like libs shouting racism over bell-curve research on educational acheivement among diff. races?).

    I agree that there is a cultural valuation of marriage and childbirth as signifiers of complete adulthood that inclines some people to seek those things sooner. There's nothing elitist or condescending in that statement.

    Traditional gender roles do figure on conservative family values. But the authors are not saying you (and the general "red" population) impose those roles on others via policy; they're saying those are the roles you respect and gravitate toward in practice at home, and that the desire to fulfill those roles is conflict with some current economic realities. That doesn't mean those values are bad in the authors' eyes.

    Point to any specific family, and we can find exceptions to the thesis. (Do Erin and I, ensconced in Red State Central, look like a stereotypical "red family"?) But zoom out to the big picture, aggregate the numbers, and the general trends make sense. if you believe in traditional family values, you will have a hard time living them out in the modern economy.

  7. Naomi Cahn is a law professor at George Washington University. June Carbone is a law professor at the University of Missouri - Kansas City. Living in Kansas City probably puts you in contact with "red families".

    I think the book's title simplifies the arguments they make in the book (probably to sell more copies)! I've heard Cahn talk with Ross Douthat on bloggingheads (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/29108), and they have time to delve into arguments the authors make in the book. Additionally, Ross Douthat's New York Times editorial (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/10/opinion/10douthat.html?_r=1) is generally complimentary towards this book. His problem with the analysis is the role that abortion plays in blue states.

    I think this is a really interesting issue and want to read the book. My guess is that their argument is much more nuanced than the articles about the book acknowledge.

  8. Good points, David. The bottom half of the article I cite does a fair job of offering at least some hints of that nuance. Cahn and Carbone don't come across as axe-grinding ideologues to me, just social scientists reporting what they've found, with no elitist eyebrow raised.


Comments are closed, as this portion of the Madville Times is in archive mode. You can join the discussion of current issues at MadvilleTimes.com.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.