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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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Your book seems to argue for more strategies to move red and blue families and their politics closer.

Cahn: There are lots of points of confluence between the red and blue family system: one is what's best for children.

Another thing everyone would agree on is the need to improve economy. Also supporting education: making sure that whatever family you're in, you get support for childcare and continuing education. Even some Republicans have suggested you might earn tuition credits if you stay home to care for a child. That might encourage education. Another area of confluence would be supporting marriages: teaching marriage skills and life skills, in addition to strengthening domestic violence laws and family-friendly policies in the workplace.

One conservative response to your book was articulated by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. He seemed to agree that red families face a lot of instability but said, basically, that at least the red family system doesn't solve problems through abortion. What's your response to that?

Cahn: Ross and I are scheduled to have an interview that will appear on Bloggingheadstv ... [Laughs.]

Who gets abortions? It's generally poor women who are getting abortions, not college-educated women. So if you look at who these abortion restrictions affect, they don't affect women who've achieved the blue lifestyle. Forty-two percent of women who abort have incomes below the federal poverty line.

That being said, I suppose if you could put a child up for adoption, or keep a child, and if there were an enormous amount of support and you could pursue opportunities, then that would be a different situation (and perhaps a different society). In our society abortion does seem to be an important option for backing up the blue family lifestyle.

Were you surprised that Douthat even admitted to problems on the red side of the fence?

Cahn: Douthat did a book called Grand New Party about the need to reclaim family values and acknowledges that working class families are having problems with stability. I don't think we've been surprised. June and I started our collaboration in 2001 and the idea for book came up in '04. We've been working on this a long time. We've thought through a lot of the issues.

You've mentioned the Palin family as an example of red family values, at least at the point when Bristol Palin was going to marry the father of her child. Who's the poster family for blue families?

Cahn: The Obamas are nice examples of the blue family model, the Clintons as well. They met in law school, got married, and now Chelsea's finished her education and announced her engagement.

What about the Gores?

Cahn: The Gores show that statistics have their limits.

Sometimes the book seems to find a lot more to like about the blue model.

Cahn: The book wasn't intended to show blue families as more successful. But if the question is which family model is better suited to new industrial economy, then the blue family model is able to invest more parental resources. We were trying not to take a position...We actually tried very hard to see the benefits and drawbacks of both systems. I think red and blue are both committed to children.

Carbone: One of the ironies is that we believe that in a less partisan world, there might be greater support for the idea that families need help. Instead, the same forces calling for more attention to “family values” also tend to oppose increases in the minimum wage, true health care reform that would separate health care from employment, more creative ways of increasing the educational attainment of young people in their twenties, and other measures that would provide a better foundation for young marriage.