The Family Values Paradox
04 May 2010 08:34 am
Jonathan Rauch reviews Naomi Cahn and June Carbone’s new book, Red Families v. Blue Families. Rauch writes that “if you want to find two-parent families with stable marriages and coddled kids, your best bet is to bypass Sarah Palin country and go to Nancy Pelosi territory.” His larger thought:
Blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age. They encourage late family formation and advanced education. They produce prosperous parents with graduate degrees, low divorce rates, and one or two over-protected children.
Red norms, on the other hand, create a quandary. They shun abortion (which is blue America’s ultimate weapon against premature parenthood) and emphasize abstinence over contraception. But deferring sex in today’s cultural environment, with its wide acceptance of premarital sex, is hard. Deferring sex and marriage until you get a college or graduate degree — until age 23 or 25 or beyond — is harder still. “Even the most devout overwhelmingly do not abstain until marriage,” Cahn and Carbone write…
The result of this red quandary, Cahn and Carbone argue, is a self-defeating backlash. Moral traditionalism fails to prevent premarital sex and early childbirth. Births precipitate more early marriages and unwed parenthood. That, in turn, increases family breakdown while reducing education and earnings.
Lexington muddies the waters:
It may be that preaching about family values forces people into premature or shotgun weddings which then fall apart. But it seems equally plausible that this story could be, in large measure, about class. Americans in poor red states are surrounded by family breakdown, so they fear it more, and make it into a political issue. The college-educated classes, who trend blue, have low rates of divorce and single parenthood. They are also better equipped, financially at least, to cope with the consequences of family breakdown should it occur. So they don’t worry about it as much, and are repelled by politicians who wax sanctimonious about it.
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Blue states vs. red states family values, or family values of educated class vs. less educated class (thanks @Rachel Isaacs)