Liberals have long cited Naomi Cahn and June Carbone’s 2010 book on family life and political culture to argue that red families are weaker than blue families. In Red Families v. Blue Families, Cahn and Carbone claim families that tout or celebrate family values, or are religious and traditional, have an increased likelihood of having less stable families.
Economist Noah Smith further argued that “liberal morality is simply better adapted for creating stable two-parent families in a post-industrialized world.” To many, at least anecdotally, this view never made much sense. A simple observation between urban, suburban and rural counties would seem to contradict their findings. Further, decades of Gallup data and research regarding health and well-being, the clear link between religiosity, health and happiness, all seem not to comport with this view.
“Try doing family-level studies,” Smith once wrote, ironically. Now, new research did just that and helps to shed some light on the disconnect. The bottom line is that prior research used state level data rather than local and regional data, which obviously fails to drill down on the specifics. At the regional level, blue families–or, families in areas that vote Democratic in presidential elections–do not have stronger families, after all. In fact, on average, more conservative counties across the country have more marriage, less non-marital childbearing, and more family stability for their children than do more liberal counties.
“There is only one problem with the conventional wisdom about family life in red and blue America. It’s mostly wrong. While it’s true that some of the bluest states in the country–such as Massachusetts and Minnesota–have some of the most stable families, some of the reddest states—such as Utah and Nebraska—do, too,” W. Bradford Wilcox, co-author of the study said. “But the state-level focus of this discussion misses the connection between family stability and political culture at the local level. After all, there are plenty of blue states with lots of red counties (think Pennsylvania), and vice versa (think Texas). Up until now, we have not known about the connection between local political culture and stable family life. As this research brief shows, it turns out, at the local level, red counties typically enjoy somewhat stronger families than do blue counties on at least three measures worth considering: marriage, non-marital childbearing, and family stability.”
Contrary to the liberal thesis that blue America does a better job of delivering family stability to our nation’s children–which again, focused only on state-level data–more in-depth analysis clearly reveals the opposite is true.
Republicans are not only more likely to be married (57-40 percent) than Democrats, but also more likely to report to be in a “Very Happy” marriage (67-60 percent). They are also less likely to have been divorced (41-47 percent) than their fellow-Democratic citizens. Considering Democrats have lower marriage rates and a lower percentage of them report to be in a “Very Happy” marriage, it isn’t surprising to see they have a higher divorce rate.
“We further took up Noah Smith’s challenge by exploring how partisanship is related to another important family-level outcome: marital quality,” Wilcox says. “The benefits of a happy marriage include better physical and psychological outcomes for adults, and, for couples who have children, better emotional and marital outcomes for their sons and daughters.”
The research shows teens are more likely to be living with their biological parents if they live in a red county. Specifically, both with and without controls for county trends in education, race, and age (and weighting for population size), teens in red counties are more likely to be living with their biological parents, compared to children living in bluer counties. Why is this significant? Because children and adolescents that live with two biological parents in stable living conditions are far less likely to develop behavioral disorders and more likely to live in an environment more conducive to educational studies.
Figure 4 in the slide above shows that there are differences in marital quality by race/ethnicity, education, and religious service attendance among respondents. The relationship between religiosity and partisanship has been well-documented by Gallup and academic research. Democrats–with the exception of black voters–consistently demonstrate a significantly lower probability of identifying as a person of faith or attending religious services on a regular basis. Whites, college-educated Americans, and churchgoing Americans have a higher likelihood of reporting that they are very happy in their marriages. Worth noting, the education difference isn’t statistically significant.
Partisan differences in race/ethnicity and religious practice accounted for more than half of the GOP advantage in the latest research.