Refuted: Study finds that conservative counties do better than liberal ones on family stability

"Red" counties have more favorable rates of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and family stability than "blue" counties.
Tue Jul 7, 2015 - 7:46 pm EST
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July 7, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – A recent study shows that when it comes to family stability, "red" (conservative) counties tend to fare better than "blue" (liberal) ones.

The findings, compiled by W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, rebut the sort of conventional wisdom found in books like Naomi Cahn's and June Carbone's Red Families v. Blue Families published in 2010.

Cahn and Carbone analyzed data on a state level, ignoring county-by-county differences.

After concluding that left-leaning states are better for families than traditional ones, they argued that conservative-leaning families embrace "early marriage and traditional gender roles," which allegedly predisposes them to "undercut education," which in turn "makes more couples less able to compete."

By contrast, according to the two researchers, liberals' embrace of feminism, contraceptives and abortifacients, and higher education means more stable families in liberal households.

Wilcox notes that under a state-by-state analysis, the bluest and reddest states (e.g., Massachusetts and Texas, respectively) appear to do best, and equally well, on family stability.

However, conservative ideology gets a modest but significant advantage when the analysis shifts from the state to the county level.

Of the United States' approximately 3,100 counties, Wilcox's survey covers the 470 largest. These account for about two-thirds of the U.S. population. "Red" counties gave a larger share of their votes in the 2012 presidential election to Mitt Romney, while "blue" counties favored Barack Obama.

Wilcox analyzed the rates of marriage, out-of-wedlock births, and family stability.

And he found that red counties do better than blue ones on all three.

According to Wilcox, red counties "have a higher share of their population that is married. This is true with and without controls for region, education, race, and age at the county level (and weighting for population size)." Wilcox attributes this phenomenon to higher levels of religious participation and "normative support" for marriage.

Similar red-county advantages appear regarding non-marital childbearing.

Regarding family stability, 57.7 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds in red counties live in two-parent households. In blue counties, the number is 54.5 percent.

The news is not all rosy for conservative-leaning regions, however. Wilcox reminds his readers that divorce is more prevalent in the South, which Wilcox attributes to factors such as the legacy of slavery and inherent familial instability in Scotch-Irish culture.

Yet the South's "divorce disadvantage" is not enough to overturn "red America's" superior family stability rates. Wilcox explains this by noting that non-marital childbearing, rather than divorce, is now the prime driver for family instability.

In other words, "the divorce disadvantage in red America is outweighed by the fact that children are more likely to be born to a married family in more conservative counties."

Wilcox admits that race is an important factor in determining which counties and political ideologies yield better results for the family. He notes that blue counties tend to have higher black populations, with "the share of African-Americans in a county" being "linked to lower levels of marriage, higher levels of nonmarital childbearing, and lower levels of family stability."

Likewise with education: highly educated people are both more likely to marry and less likely to divorce. Therefore, teenagers living in counties with lots of highly educated adults are more likely to be living in two-parent homes. Wilcox concludes, "education would seem to play a particularly important role in stabilizing family life in blue America."

Wilcox admits that the red-county advantage is "not overwhelming." But it does prove that the "conventional wisdom" – i.e., that liberal ideology creates more stable families – "is wrong."

  brad wilcox, family

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