NYT: There Are More 'Intact Families' Living In Red Counties

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jul 02, 2015 1:04 PM
NYT: There Are More 'Intact Families' Living In Red Counties

To circle back on my previous post about the blue and red state models regarding families, there are positives and negatives to each model. Blue state families–for lack of a better term–are usually better educated, which leads to greater financial stability that often translates into a more stable marriage, according to new research. Families in blue states also marry later in life, whereas families in red states are very religious and community-based, with a population that marries young. However, they aren’t as educated and therefore the divorce rates are usually higher. At the same time, abortion rates are typically lower in red states than that of blue states for obvious reasons. Yet, Ross Douthat of the New York Times highlighted that an ugly aspect of the blue state model is that it may require abortion to be successful. That’s abhorrent, but there's new data that sheds more positive light of the red state model.

Now, the Time’s Upshot blog has something to add to this debate, by analyzing the 470 biggest counties in the country we find–to no one’s surprise–that red counties have more intact families:

W. Bradford Wilcox, of the University of Virginia — decided to go one level deeper and analyze counties as well. (Because of census data limitations, the new analysis covers only the 470 largest counties, which together account for about two-thirds of the population.)

With the county data, the overall blue-state advantage disappears: Teenagers are more likely to live with both of their parents in red counties than in blue. In the counties where Mitt Romney won at least 50 percent of the vote in 2012, 57.7 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds live with both parents. In counties where Mr. Romney won less, 54.5 percent do.

Some critics of the earlier state-level analysis argued that it did not sufficiently take account of race — and that race, not politics, was driving the differences. And it’s true that black and Latino families are more likely to have only one parent and also more likely to vote Democratic, which explains some of the red-blue gap at the county level. But the higher share of intact families in red counties doesn’t appear to stem only from race.

The new data shows that among counties with similar racial makeups, the red counties still had a higher share of intact families.

(In statistical terms: A linear regression on three factors — the percentage of a county that was white, the percentage that was black and the county’s 2012 vote — still found that the vote variable was a statistically significant predictor of the share of intact families. Every additional percentage point in Mr. Romney’s vote share, after controlling for race, correlated with an increase of 0.11 percentage points in the share of intact families.)

“The data suggest that marriage is more likely to ground and guide adult lives, including the entry into parenthood, in red America,” Mr. Wilcox writes in the new paper, published by the Institute for Family Studies. “The red advantage in marriage, in all likelihood, flows in part from higher levels of religious participation and normative support for marriage found in more politically conservative counties.”

He emphasizes that the red-county advantage is modest. The difference between 57.7 and 54.5 is obviously small, indicating that red and blue counties have far more in common than not. Blue counties also have their own advantages — above all, higher levels of education, which tend to lead to more family stability.

At the same time, the article added that Naomi Cahn of George Washington University and June Carbone from the University of Minnesota, who wrote Red Families vs. Blue Families in 2010, argued that “women’s equality, later marriage, birth control and strong educations made families more stable,” though both women agreed that a strong, vibrant economy benefits family stability for all.