Maggie Gallagher

Two law professors have waded deep into the minefields of the culture war and come up with a doozy of a hypothesis: We Americans are not just divided politically into red states and blue states, our very families are colored-coded red and blue.

Oh, and the blue family is beating the red family, hands down.

"Blue family champions celebrate the commitment to equality that makes companionate relationships possible and the sexual freedom that allows women to fully participate in society," say Naomi Cahn and June Carbone in their book "Blue Families v. Red Families." "Those who have embraced the blue family model have low divorce rates, relatively few teen births, and good incomes."

What is a "blue family," you ask? On the individual level, blue families appear to be progressives who marry late -- often after finishing grad school -- and have relatively low rates of divorce or unwed childbearing. This is the blue family paradox: Blue families may talk liberal, but they end up living bourgeois lives.

The red family paradox, according to Cahn and Carbone, is that socially conservative red states have higher rates of divorce and teen childbearing. "Are 'family values' undermining the family?" as one reviewer put it.

The more you look at this provocative thesis, the more improbable it becomes.

The elephant in the room is the one issue Cahn and Carbone want to avoid because they wish to tone down the culture wars around the family: abortion.

The five states with the highest abortion rates, they note, are all blue family states: New York, Delaware, Washington, New Jersey and Rhode Island. By contrast, the states with the lowest abortion rates are mostly red or at least purple: Utah, Idaho, Colorado, South Dakota and Kentucky.

Could attitudes toward abortion be the real source of the red family/blue family divide?

Fueling this suspicion is the data that Cahn and Carbone provide on the out-of-wedlock birthrates. For here, the neat red/blue lines break down, especially once race is taken into account. In 2004, the five states with the highest white out-of-wedlock birthrates were a politically mixed lot: Nevada, Maine, West Virginia, Indiana and Vermont. States with the lowest rates of unwed childbearing were also mixed by party dominance: Utah, New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado, Idaho and the District of Columbia. The authors note this fact but never integrate it into their theory.

The data that do not fit are usually the most important data.


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.