Family Values In Red States Vs. Blue States

Research shows that more liberal states, like Mass., tend to have the lowest divorce rates. And the highest teen birth rates tend to be in more conservative states.

Naomi Cahn and June Carbone explain this apparent paradox in their book, Red Families V. Blue Families.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Many of our assumptions about the cultural divide between red and blue states may be wrong. New research shows that more liberal states, like Massachusetts, tend to have the lowest rates of divorce and teen childbirth. In other words the most stable families, the homes with two parents to nurture their kids, are found in the liberal strongholds along the East and West Coasts.

Conversely, the higher rates of teen childbirth and divorce occur in the red states that conservatives so often celebrate as the heartland of family values.

In a new book, law profs Naomi Cahn and June Carbone argue this is not the paradox it might seem, that the answers lie in economics, politics and culture. They join us in a moment to explain.

Later in the program, the New York Times financial columnist David Leonhardt draw ominous parallels between Greece now and the United States later: debt and taxes.

But first, joining us now from the studios at George Washington University is Naomi Cahn, where she teaches law. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. NAOMI CAHN (Law Professor, George Washington University; Co-author, "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture"): My pleasure, thank you.

CONAN: And joining us from member station WQCS in Fort Pierce, Florida, is June Carbone, law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and it's good to have you with us, as well.

Ms. JUNE CARBONE (Law Professor, University Missouri, Kansas City; Co-author, "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture"): Delighted to be here.

CONAN: And June Carbone, can you define red family values and blue family values?

Ms. CARBONE: Well, we look at it as two different systems divided first and foremost by the age of marriage. When is the right time to form a family, when you're fully adult, financially independent, emotionally stable, or do you form a family, get married, at the point where you're ready to begin sexual activity? We think it's the age of marriage that drives the difference in our two systems.

CONAN: So that if you get married younger, you're more likely to make some mistakes.

Ms. CARBONE: Definitely.

CONAN: And Naomi Cahn, this is these two theories are basically one, that families create adults, in other words that the responsibilities of family, making a living, providing for children, well, that teaches people to grow up pretty quickly, and they become good, responsible members of society and go on to have stable families, or that adults make families, in other words wait until you're an adult, and then form a family.

Ms. CAHN: That's right. You can either have a child at get married and have a child at a young age, in which case you are more likely to get divorced, or you can wait until you're older both to get married and have children, in which case you're much less likely to get divorced, and you are much more likely as well to have a higher income.

CONAN: There is also kids who get married younger because the woman is pregnant. Well, one or both of those adults are likely to get knocked out of the school system. They're likely to have to go to work.

Ms. CAHN: That's right. And in fact, teen pregnancy and teen childbirth are huge predictors of who's actually going to be dropping out of school. If you look at women who have had children while they are teens, they are much less likely to get a high school degree or even a GED than are women who don't have children while they're teens, who wait until they're older to have children.

So teen pregnancy and teen childbirth really create an incredible cost for the parents.

CONAN: And June Carbone, another side product of that, again younger children, is some of those women are going to end up raising their children by themselves, a higher proportion than perhaps in the blue states.

Ms. CARBONE: That's right. And one of the things that has happened, and you don't have the country as a whole keeping up with it, is where the jobs are. So if you go back to 1960, if a young man got a young woman pregnant, the expectation would be he could get a pretty good job. Even if he didn't finish high school, he could get a pretty good job, enough of a job to support a family. He would be in a work environment with other married men. There would be socialization into appropriate expectations for husbands.

Today, if you have the same scenario, that young man is likely not to be able to get a very satisfying job, to be in an environment with unmarried men. His wife is likely to have as good or better opportunities than he has. And if both of them have traditional expectations about gender roles, if she's working full-time because he can't support her, she's going to be pretty unhappy.

CONAN: And that's where you go into the cultural values here, that in the red states, the heartland states, if you will, the states that tout family values or celebrate family values, there are religious and traditional concerns that you say increase the likelihood of having less stable families.

Ms. CARBONE: That's right because what you've got is a system that is still placing a premium on shepherding young women, relatively early ages, into marriage rather than into cohabitation or experimentation with boyfriends.

And if you're going to get married at an age that's pretty close to the beginning of sexual activity, you're not ready for everything else. You're not ready for the children. You probably haven't completed school. If you've completed school, you haven't quite figured out what kind of career or even stable job you're going to have.

And so when the baby comes along, whether the pregnancy is before the marriage or after the marriage, you're not fully prepared with a system in place to deal with the results. You need a lot of help.

But we're a more mobile society with less job stability and fewer opportunities than my generation had.

CONAN: And Naomi Cahn, it's also where the law comes into it, different laws in different states in terms of access to birth control and indeed access to abortion.

Ms. CAHN: Different states do have different laws that do have some connection to the different family systems, and there is it's not that the laws cause the different systems. They're sort of a reflection of the different systems. And if you look at all of the states that are more accepting of gay marriage and gay long-term relationships, perhaps not surprisingly, they're all blue. If you look at the states that were the first ones to reject funding for abstinence-alone education, again they were all blue.

So there is the law does come into play when we're looking at what kinds of life choices are, in fact, possible, and so access to contraception and, where necessary, access to abortion is generally easier in the blue states.

CONAN: And it's important not to overlook that last one because some people have pointed out the teen pregnancy rate is just about the same in red states and blue states. It's the teen birthrate that's different, and there, you're talking about abortion.

Ms. CAHN: That's right, and there we are talking about abortion. But as soon as we start talking about abortion, one of the things that June and I argue is that we need to back up. We need to back up and look at contraception, and we need to look at access to contraception and making it as easy as possible for men and women, boys and girls, who are becoming sexually active to access contraception because although no contraception is fail-proof, having access to safe, long-acting contraception can help prevent the need for abortion.

The other thing that we emphasize is the importance of education. And if you look at the abortion rates nationally, college-educated women are much less likely than women the same age to be getting abortions. So education and contraception are what we think are of as cornerstones to the blue family lifestyle.

CONAN: And so we want to ask listeners to get into the conversation. What political, economic and cultural decisions shaped your family in terms of its stability? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation, as well, at our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we have an email that just goes to the point you were talking about. This is Seth(ph) in Portland, says: It seems the difference between red state and blue state philosophies and behavior can be boiled down to one word: education. You would have said access to birth control as well, but education is hugely important here, isn't it?

Ms. CARBONE: It is, and one of the things we've seen happen in the '90s are really striking for a set of shifts countrywide that exacerbated the differences between different states but also different classes.

So what you see happening in the '90s is that teen pregnancy drops across the board. When you then say where did it drop fastest, it dropped fastest in the Northeast, least in the South.

When you ask the question for whom did it drop, you see for whites a drop in both teen pregnancies and teen and abortions. So what's going on is less conception.

When you look at minority women, they actually had a larger drop in teen births, but abortion rates stayed much higher. And when we then tease that out and look at...

CONAN: You said rights. I think you meant to say abortion rates stayed much higher.

Ms. CARBONE: Rates, rates, not rights. You're correct. And when we look at what took place for women between 20 to 24, the numbers are stunning because we see that unintended pregnancy rate going down for the college educated. We see it going up for the poorest women.

And when you ask the question why is it going up, you see lesser use of contraception, and our efforts to tease out the causes suggest you have more immigrant women, you have less access to health care, you have the end of welfare, which means women aren't being funneled into a system with social workers who make sure they have access to what they need. And so you're seeing actually things getting worse for the women who are least well-off.

CONAN: But is it fair to say that you're arguing that liberal social policies, including access to birth control and access to abortion, that those make for better, more stable families?

Ms. CAHN: Yes. We're saying that in the current information economy, where there is a premium if you look at where the jobs are, job increases over the past several decades have occurred in the most highly skilled occupations, as well as in very low-skilled occupations, and people in the middle are being left out.

So if you look at what it is that is driving the new economy and what's going to maximize people's chances, it's going to be getting a good education.

CONAN: Well, talking with Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, co-author of "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture." And we'll be back with your calls. What decisions - political, economic and cultural - shaped your family? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about red families and blue families, a book that turns much of what we think we know about conservative and liberal family values on its head. They put together a cultural snapshot of the differences between red and blue families. You can read that in an excerpt at the book. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

The authors are Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, and so we want to know from you: What political, economic and cultural decisions shaped your family? Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. We'll start with Shannon(ph). Shannon's with us from Davenport in Iowa.

SHANNON (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Shannon.

SHANNON: I'm calling to talk to your guests about I don't know how to say this. I'm someone that kind of breaks all the statistics there. I don't follow the statistical rule for a teen parent.

CONAN: Sure.

SHANNON: And I'm trying to work with teenagers to discuss teen pregnancy and help prevent it.

CONAN: So are you saying you were a teen parent, but things worked out okay?

SHANNON: Things worked out very well.

CONAN: Good.

SHANNON: And it's been a good thing when working with teenagers today to prevent teen pregnancy.

CONAN: Oh, to present yourself as a role model.

SHANNON: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I think one of the important things, this is a statistical study. Individuals obviously vary. And June Carbone, that's you know, obviously, you're going to have differences on both sides. I bet there's been a divorce or two in Massachusetts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CARBONE: Absolutely. But I'm glad things worked out well for you, and what do you think the secret was?

SHANNON: Education, absolutely. And I would say that the school that I attended, with other teenagers that were also pregnant, I would say the majority of girls that did go on to be pretty successful versus the ones that didn't were ones that tended to be good students and valued education before they became pregnant and that's continued.

CONAN: Of the kids that you knew, the girls who did get pregnant in high school, as I assume you're talking about, how many of them would you say went on to success, and what percentage didn't?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHANNON: I would say about five percent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHANNON: Not many. But like I said, many of them were very good students early on.

CONAN: And what do the kids you're working with today say when you come to them with stories about the difficulties of teen pregnancy?

SHANNON: Again, I can't help but see it as money. It's a socioeconomic I mean, that's just what I see again and again and again. It's just those on the lower income levels just don't they just don't seem to care what the statistics are, they don't.

CONAN: And so they go ahead anyway. All right. Shannon, thanks very much, and again, we celebrate your success.

SHANNON: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Ms. CAHN: It seems as though what's important is being able to support, when women do have children, when women are teens and have children, being able to support them as they continue education.

Another person who has who's going to be breaking the teen-mother model is Bristol Palin. She's presumably going to be quite successful in her life, although let's remember that she is now a spokesperson for abstinence education.

CONAN: There has been some reaction to your book and to publications about it. Ross Douthat in the New York Times pointed out that while the teen birthrate is higher in red families, the teen pregnancy rate is nearly identical we mentioned that earlier.

Quote: So isn't it just contraception that delays childbearing in liberal states? And isn't it just a foolish devotion to abstinence education that leads to teen births and hasty marriages in conservative America? It is also a matter of how plausible an option abortion seems, both morally and practically, depending on who and where you are. And he goes on to conclude: It reflects an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual-revolution America without relying on abortion.

Is that what you're trying to do?

Ms. CARBONE: No. The way we see this is if you think about it as a system, and you watch the comments on Bristol Palin, almost no one really thought it was about the marriage to Levi. Instead, what you have were red-staters applaud the decision not to have the abortion, and blue-staters be appalled at the thought that anyone would think it was appropriate to have a child at 17, that Bristol was ready and prepared.

If you think about that, the acceptability of the child as a starting point, and then you say, well, you know, if the child really isn't acceptable, and you assume marriage at 17 isn't a good idea either, what's going to happen? And the answer is a system that marches people down to Planned Parenthood, typically, around 17 or 18, 19 at the latest, and thinks of this as part of education or preparation for life.

The U.S. has a higher unintended pregnancy rate than almost any other developed nation, and that's because we don't think of this as systematic. We think of it as you're on your own. And if you're not someplace that's supportive of getting on the pill, then maybe abortion needs to be the fallback.

But for the groups that really have embraced blue, what you see is abortion rates have declined pretty dramatically.

Ms. CAHN: The other thing it's important to remember is abstinence education in general doesn't work if it's abstain until marriage. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy did a survey of young adults and found that about two-thirds of them knew either little or nothing about the birth control pill, and a third of them knew little or nothing about condoms, which are a very basic method of birth control, very accessible and relatively inexpensive method of birth control.

So we need to make sure that contraception is available and that teens know about the availability and the different forms of contraception.

CONAN: But as you well know, in many places in the country, sex education and education about birth control is equated with giving teens permission to have sex.

Ms. CAHN: Exactly, exactly. Whereas what you're doing is you're helping teens navigate the difficult period of sexual awakening, beginning in adolescence, and you're giving them the tools that they need. Just because you have the knowledge doesn't mean you need to use it.

CONAN: But some people dont want schools to release that information or even Planned Parenthood clinics. They think that's the parents' role.

Ms. CARBONE: They do. You know, in my Catholic high school, one of the things we debated, the pope's encyclical on birth control, and I was against it. And I was shocked to discover that the primary argument on the other side was: But nobody who was married would use birth control.

And I was going what? One way of thinking about this is if you're training teens for life, and you're assuming they're going to get married, contraception is pretty important for those of us who are married, as well as women who aren't married.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Linae(ph), Linae with us from Fort Collins in Colorado.

LINAE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

LINAE: Thanks for taking my call. My family was staunch Republicans and lifelong members of the military, and I basically came out of the womb with Democratic values.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LINAE: And I think what the difference was is that my father being in the military for his entire life, I saw what a truly socialistic-government-taking-care-of-the-family-and-taking-care-of-people system was like, and I thought it was a good idea. Plus...

CONAN: Go ahead.

LINAE: I'm sorry. My father also was a staunch supporter of Eisenhower, and I think it's clear that he would not make it in today's Republican Party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, that's another issue, but and Linae, how have those genetic Democratic beliefs shaped your decisions about your family?

LINAE: Well, one of the things that made a difference is when I was 16 years old, and I let my mother know that I was getting serious with a boyfriend, she sat me down and was very practical and said here's how not to get pregnant. And we're going to go to the doctor. We're going to get you the pill.

And because of that, I had the freedom to decide not to get more intimate with my high school boyfriend, but I respected what she said to me about it. And I had and because I used the pill later on when I was in college I did not have to change my life. I had choices that I wouldn't have had otherwise.

CONAN: All right. It sounds like there were genes on both side of that equation. But anyway, Linae, thanks very much for your call. We appreciate it.

LINAE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Ramon(ph) in San Francisco: I'm a former student of Professor Carbone. She once mentioned that as couples wait to get married, the rate of first-time divorce goes down. Do those findings hold true?

Ms. CARBONE: Yes. And indeed, they're fascinating because what we found is that if you go back, you know, 30 years, teen pregnancy, always a risk factor for divorce, but after about 21, 22, didn't make that much difference. If you got married at 22, got married at 28, divorce rate's about the same.

Today, that's not true, and it's a change over the last 20 years. Today, for every point at which you increase age, the divorce rate goes down. And when you look at more sophisticated studies, you find that there are really two things happening.

One, if you control for everything you can control for, age is an independent protective factor, less likely to get divorced if you're older. But the other thing that is happening is, in the old days, at least for women, all the good guys were gone after - about 50 percent of college graduates were married by 23, and the view was, slim pickings thereafter. Today, that's not true. The more successful people marry later, and they marry similarly successful people. You know, the difference between teen partying and alcoholism by 29 - don't necessarily know that at 21.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get another caller on the line, Amy - Amy calling from Queen Creek in Arizona.

AMY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Amy.

AMY: Hi. I was just calling - I feel like I kind of go against most of the statistics that you're using. And I would actually say that religion has played the biggest factor in shaping my values. I got married when I was 20, and I'm now 30. I'm more in love with my husband than I was then even, and we have three kids. I have a bachelor's degree. And I would just say that, you know, religious values are what really gave me the foundation for (unintelligible).

CONAN: And which religion do you subscribe to?

AMY: I'm LDS. I'm Mormon.

CONAN: Okay. And that - like many people in the state of Utah, and indeed, in large parts of Arizona as well. Julie(ph) Carbone has - June, excuse me, Carbone, does religion factor in to your study?

Ms. CARBONE: Yes. Indeed, one of the things we talked about that one of the exceptions to this is if you have two people where the husband and wife both share the same religious values in the same religion, that that's a protective factor. And...

AMY: That makes it...

Ms. CARBONE: ...if they're able to make a go of it. That is, you know, one of the things we find - and again, there's a real split in couples. Those who have traditional values, that live a traditional life, are actually quite happy. I mean, the wealthy are the happiest. Next to them, couples who share the same idea of what family life should be like and realize it are among the happiest married couples.

CONAN: And that seems to describe you, Amy.

AMY: Yes. And, you know, we were both taught abstinence before we were married, and that works for us. But at the same time, my parents taught my sex education class in fifth grade, so...

CONAN: Okay.

AMY: So, I mean, I was well educated in that respect, but I would definitely, you know, teach abstinence to my children.

CONAN: Of course. Thank you very much for the call, Amy.

AMY: Yes. Thank you.

CONAN: June Carbone, you were about to say something else?

Ms. CARBONE: Yes. And that's - there is a second half to this, and that is there is an increasing number of traditional couples who find they can't make a go of it. That is, the wife expects that she will work, at most, part time, that the husband will be the breadwinner, play a fairly traditional role. But they can't do it because he can't get a job that pays enough. Her income is essential to the family. They aren't that well educated. She doesn't particularly like her job and she'd rather be home with the kids. That profile, right now, is a big prescription for divorce.

And when you look at Utah, Utah has the youngest average age of marriage in the country. And it is 17th divorce rates. Now, on the one hand, it's doing really well. But for the demographic it has, which is not terribly diverse, very religious and committed to marriage - that's a pretty high divorce rate. And the Mormon Church, you know, LDS has been looking into the question. What can it do to help reduce divorce rates, and focusing on better preparation for marriage? So I'm saying, there are a lot of pieces of that picture up there.

CONAN: We're talking with Naomi Cahn and June Carbone about their book, "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I want to get to some emails. This is from Michael in St. Louis. I grew up in the northwest part of Oklahoma, a very conservative part of the country and the state. The most important things that shape opinions in that part of the state - political, social and otherwise - are religion, which we've been talking about, and social pressures from the community. So, that obviously is a factor as well. Stigma, as you say, is not what it once was in terms of either divorce or, indeed, in some parts of the country, about abortion.

Ms. CARBONE: That's right. And we found social pressure being part of a small, close-knit community really does reinforce certain values. So with religion and being part of a small community that shares the same values, then it is easier to live a particular lifestyle. So, yes, that is absolutely critical as well - another factor in terms of how people live their lives.

CONAN: This is from Lorna(ph). I agree with the conclusions of your guest. I'm a 59-year-old woman who was raised in a conservative home, married in 19 and divorced three times. I finally got a college education, which changed my life for the better.

This is from Jennifer(ph) in Fort Collins. I just tuned in and heard that educated women tend to conceive at a lower rate than uneducated women. Much of the discussion has been about women. Do you think that the men that educated women associate with are different than the women - men that uneducated women associate with? Can you comment on the role of men in this equation? Then we've mentioned this briefly, but Naomi?

Ms. CAHN: What we found is that people are more likely - are becoming more likely to marry people who are like them. And so, college-educated men and women are likely to be marrying each other. The other thing that's changed with men is men had become a lot more involved in the family and the amount of time that they spend on childcare has increased over the past 30 to 40 years, which then means that they are facilitating a blue lifestyle, in which both mother and father, both man and woman, are able to work and to achieve their potential of balancing work and family much better.

CONAN: And this email finally from Paul(ph) in New York, up in the Mohawk Valley. My wife and I are in the other end of the spectrum. We had our first child in January. I was 50, she was 40. While we don't want the energy we once had when we were younger, our resources are much more significant. I look at the people in our birthing class and who were in the maternity ward and really think we have more advantages than disadvantages. We're able to dedicate all of our resources to our son, who, by the way, is the most perfect child ever born. They get to dispute about that. Thank you both very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Ms. CAHN: Thank you.

Ms. CARBONE: Thank you.

CONAN: June Carbone and Naomi Cahn, co-authors of "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture." One of them joined us from WQCS in Fort Pierce in Florida, that was June Carbone. And Naomi Cahn with us from the studios at George Washington University here in Washington, D.C. Coming up our big, fat Greek debt crisis. Can the financial meltdown in Athens happen here in Washington? Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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Excerpt: 'Red Families V. Blue Families'

Cover of 'Red Families V. Blue Families'
Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture
By Naomi Cahn and June Carbone
Hardcover, 304 pages
Oxford University Press, USA
List price: $29.95

A CULTURAL SNAPSHOT

The demographic data suggest that life patterns do differ regionally, that some of the differences — higher teen birthrates, for example — may be a source of concern, and that the differences are great enough to suggest that family policy and family law are likely to differ regionally. Moreover, the differences in the age at marriage and the incidence of teen births are relatively recent in origin. The entire country experienced a decline in age at marriage and an increase in the teen birthrate in the 1950s; the subsequent decline in fertility and increase in the age at marriage, in contrast, has been far more regionally concentrated, with the changes occurring more thoroughly and dramatically in the Northeast and more slowly in the South, the Mountain West, and the Plains.

The differences in family structure, of course, do not occur in a vacuum. We recognize, for example, that they strongly reflect wealth and that wealth plays a major role in reinforcing both the political and family patterns we describe. Moreover, we realize that family formation varies within the states. White Californians, for example, may experience patterns more like that of Massachusetts, while the large Latino population in California marries and bears children at younger ages, producing state totals distinctly different from those of the South or Northeast. We also make no statement about causation; we cannot say, for example, that a pregnant 19-year-old is choosing to conceive and bear a child because she lives in Mississippi rather than Massachusetts, or even that the Mississippi teen has become pregnant because of a lack of access to contraception, less optimism about her economic future, racial patterns that make early sexuality more common for blacks than whites, or religious patterns that discourage use of birth control or abortion, though we note that others have looked at these issues.

Finally, we acknowledge that our red and blue family paradigms intersect with other cultural constructs. Mormon life in middle-class Utah, for example, may differ significantly from rural life in Baptist portions of Arkansas even as they both embrace portions of the social conservative family frame. Indeed, we suspect that while there may be one dominant blue pattern for the well-educated, there are at least two comparable red patterns. The poorer red areas, such as Arkansas and Oklahoma, combine high rates of early marriage with high teen birthrates. The somewhat better-off families in states such as Utah and Nebraska have high rates of marriage at younger ages with relatively lower levels of teen pregnancy.

Despite the differences within and between states, however, we believe that the cultural differences between regions of the country frame the world views voters bring to the ballot box and the milieus in which legal issues are decided. Issues related to marriage, contraception, abortion, and divorce take on different symbolic and practical meanings if young adults characteristically marry at 22 rather than at 29, and if teen pregnancy is a routine pathway to marriage rather than an inopportune event to be managed. Moreover, we suspect that political attitudes might well vary between states where over half the population lives in married-couple households versus those where household patterns are more diverse.

Causation, however, runs in multiple directions. Bill Bishop's book The Big Sort argues that the regions have become more distinct — and different from each other — as the like-minded have become more likely to move closer to each other. He maintains that the most dramatic movements have occurred in the country's technological centers (e.g., Silicon Valley in California or the high-tech corridor near Boston), which attract well-educated, ambitious — and overwhelmingly blue — professionals. Steve Sailer, a columnist at the American Conservative, notes further that states where the costs are lower (cheaper housing and family-related expenses) are more likely to be Republican, suggesting that family-oriented Americans may be voting with their feet as they also seek out more family-friendly communities. Moreover, even if diversity exists within each region, and even if regional differences reflect an amalgam of income, class, race, and the ethnic origins of the original European immigrants who settled there, they frame family law decision making. Other scholars are examining the correlations among these factors and finding statistically significant connections between family styles and voting patterns. Michigan political scientists Ron Lesthaeghe and Lisa Neidert, for example, have demonstrated that family characteristics showed a significant correlation with voting preferences in the last three presidential elections.

They measured family factors in terms of a host of variables that include postponing marriage and childbearing, overall fertility, marriage, abortion, and cohabitation rates, which they describe as indicators of the second demographic transformation (SDT) and which we link to the blue family paradigm. The political scientists found that the weaker the state's score on the composite SDT measure, the more likely it is to vote Republican, which "is to our knowledge one of the highest spatial correlations between demographic and voting behavior on record."

What we are doing in our analysis is both simpler and more complex than that of the political scientists. It is simpler in that we are not performing the type of statistical analysis they perform. Although we accept their more-sophisticated calculation of the strength of the correlation between family characteristics and voting patterns, we do not attempt to say whether each of the variables we discuss independently correlates with political preferences. Instead, we break down the components of their term, "second demographic transition," to examine the role of factors such as teen births or abortion rates in the construction of family understandings.

In the process, we have begun to unlock the factors that help determine the acceptability of legal innovations. Family life has changed in the United States, it has changed unevenly across the country, and it is a major factor determining the life chances of the next generation — and aggravating the increased inequality that characterizes our society. The critical question for us is understanding the legal frameworks that create and reinforce different pathways to family life, such as the variations between support for abstinence-only education or contraception, the restrictions on or broader availability of abortion, the creation of family-friendly workplaces, and the meaning of marriage or cohabiting relationships. Having observed substantial demographic variation between regions, this brief exercise convinced us to probe further. We wondered what accounts for these regional differences and whether they are reflected in the law. Finding some answers requires returning to the broader literature on the family to which both of us have contributed.

Reprinted from Red Families v. Blue Families published by Oxford University Press, Inc. Copyright 2010 Oxford University Press, Inc.

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