Red Families Vs. Blue Families

There's a family-values divide between red states and blue states, two researchers say, but the differences might surprise people on both sides of the political spectrum. The states that voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections have the lowest rates of divorce and teen pregnancies. And the red states had the highest. One of those researchers, June Carbone of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, tells host Guy Raz what she thinks is the deciding factor: Women in blue states wait later to get married and have kids.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, Sarah Palin visited a small town in North Carolina, a place she called the real America.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call real America, being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, very pro-America.

RAZ: The real America was a kind of code phrase for parts of the country where people preach family values and respect the institution of marriage. But somehow, it's unlikely Sarah Palin was referring to Massachusetts or New Jersey. And yet according to a new book, the states with the lowest rates of divorce and teen pregnancies are so-called blue states like Massachusetts, states that voted Democratic in 2004 and 2008.

The book is "Red Families v. Blue Families" and its co-author, June Carbone, a professor of law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, is with me.

Welcome.

Professor JUNE CARBONE (Co-Author, "Red Families v. Blue Families): Delighted to be here.

RAZ: In the book, you talk about the blue family system and the red family systems. Define the terms here. What's the blue family system, and what's the red family system?

Prof. CARBONE: The single biggest difference between the two is the notion of age of marriage or childbearing. We see this blue system as one that says grow up first, be established, be financially sound, then have a family. The red family system says it's very important to avoid too much premarital sexuality. So you're going to move lockstep from school into employment and marriage fairly soon. You're not going to wait until you're fully established. You're going to get married and have children younger.

RAZ: And now, you found that the lowest divorce rates in the country tend to be in blue states. The highest divorce rates tend to be in states that voted - so-called red states that voted Republican in 2004, 2008. I think a lot of people would be surprised by that. It seems to suggest that places that are more politically left of center tend to reflect what we might regard as having more traditional family values.

Prof. CARBONE: We were astonished to find how closely the vote, especially in 2004, to a strong degree in 2008, maps on to family structure. Here's the thing that's happened in the blue world. What you have is, again, a system, far more independence. And we find that people who do marry later late 20s, early 30s you've got a pretty good sense who's going to be successful and stable and a good marriage partner at 30. You're still guessing at 22.

So one of the things that's happened is with a later average age of marriage, successful people are more likely to marry other successful people. And what you're finding is the group that is getting married at that later age knows what they're doing.

RAZ: Why do you think the data is so different based on the political orientation of a state?

Prof. CARBONE: When we looked at the numbers and we said, where is the world changing? If we wanted to know whether a state was shifting from Republican to Democratic - states like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, New Hampshire is very interesting in this regard, though it happened earlier - where you see a big drop in teen pregnancies, those states are shifting from being more Republican to more Democratic.

When you then ask the question, who's most anxious about family values? You've got well, I mentioned the higher divorce rates. We looked at the numbers in the '90s, for college graduates, divorce rates were falling sharply. For the country as a whole, divorce rates were plateauing, albeit at high levels. But for the middle group in the country, they were continuing to rise.

When we were looking at non-marital birth rates for whites, a big change in the '90s was a big increase in the non-marital birth rates, white women between the ages of 20, 24. And that's an age where in small communities, marriage typically happened - where the time for family formation is the early 20s, not the late 20s, and the non-marital birth rates were jumping.

When you put those two things together - higher non-marital birth rates for whites and higher divorce rates - and you say, where are anxieties about those trends greatest? It's in Sarah Palin's America.

RAZ: That's June Carbone. She's the co-author of the book "Red Families v. Blue Families." She also teaches law at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. And she joined me from there.

June Carbone, thanks so much.

Prof. CARBONE: Great to be here.

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