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Why Do Red States Have the Worst "Family Values"?

The "red family system" preaches early marriage and traditional gender roles -- a model no longer suited to our post-industrial economy. No wonder "red families" are falling apart.

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Does getting married at a younger age help explain the higher divorce rate in red states?

Cahn: Teen marriages are associated with higher rates of divorce. The older you are when you get married, the less likely you are, statistically, to divorce... So when you look at age of first marriage, you see a correlation with divorce rate.

And how do you explain people getting married at younger ages in the red states?

Cahn: If you're going to preach abstinence until marriage, it's not surprising that the result will be a lower age of marriage.

Carbone: The educational levels in red states are also lower, with early marriage or childbearing often derailing education, and those who don't plan to go onto college marrying earlier.

Can you talk about some of the economic reasons for marital instability in red families?

Cahn: The red model of early marriage works really well if one breadwinner can support his family and where jobs are available and plentiful for high school grads. Unfortunately, that's not the economy we live in right now. In our economy, the more education you have, in most cases, the higher your income is going to be. It is hard to have a child and then provide the care you want and go to college to further your education. The red family model, while suited to particular times in the American economy and the American century, is not suited to needs of post-industrial economy that rewards investment in education and depends on two incomes as a way of family support.

But there are plenty of conservative working mothers, so couldn't you say red families have adjusted to the new economy?

Cahn: The red family preaches breadwinner, and there is discontent when you want to be in the traditional breadwinner model and the economy won't allow that... In a red family, you might be working just at a minimum wage or you haven't had the time to further your education. Unfortunately you're less likely to be happy.

Carbone: The most recent studies show that couples who are less educated tend to have more traditional expectations about gender roles than college grads, but they also show that where the wife is working full-time and would prefer to have more time to spend with her children or in the home, she is very unhappy and more likely to divorce. The latest surveys show that couples who experience financial stress are more likely to divorce than they were a generation ago, and almost all twenty-something couples experience financial stress.

If money helps stabilize relationships, and money comes from education, then is college the right thing for parents in every red family?

Cahn: No, a degree isn't the answer to everybody's woes. Community colleges and vocational education can help with finding better jobs.

Carbone: One problem is the lack of flexibility in the job market and health care is a big part of that. Many couples feel they must work full-time to retain benefits for their children, and these days, working class women may find they have greater opportunities for benefits than poorly educated men.

What are some exceptions to your book's finding that red families are more likely to be struggling?

Cahn: There are pockets of the country where the red family pattern is supported by community, so that red families are alive, well and thriving. I'm thinking of Mormon communities in Utah.

Carbone: In addition, some studies find that where the couples share a commitment to the same religion and attend church together, family stability improves.