Writing for the National Journal Magazine, Jonathan Rauch has an interesting analysis of Naomi Cahn and June Carbone’s book Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture.
The book’s take on the cultural divide between Red States and Blue States is summarized as: “In red America, families form adults; in blue America, adults form families.” The expectation in red states is that people will have children early and the parents will grow into their responsibilities. The expectation in blue states is that people will wait to have families until their education and financial situation is more secure.
You can do a good job of predicting how a state will vote in national elections by looking at its population’s average age at first marriage and childbirth.
Six of the seven states with the lowest divorce rates in 2007, and all seven with the lowest teen birthrates in 2006, voted blue in both elections. Six of the seven states with the highest divorce rates in 2007, and five of the seven with the highest teen birthrates, voted red. It’s as if family strictures undermine family structures.
The suggestion is that the blue state approach split from the red state approach with the advent of birth control and the information economy with its influx of women into the workforce. This short-circuited two major factors that contributed to the red state approach: #1 Sex causes babies; and #2 A man could get a low-skill job that paid sufficiently to support a family.
I don’t know if it’s a cause or merely another symptom, but what came to my mind when reading this analysis was “red” versus “blue” is, at root, a difference in attitude about life’s purpose. (And, yes, these are all generalizations.) Is life about self-realization and maximizing personal happiness or is it about fulfilling duties without much regard for whether doing so brings any particular joy to a person’s life.
My upbringing was a mix, I suppose. There was rarely, if ever, any particular discussion about the morality of premarital sex, but it was abundantly clear that having kids out of wedlock was a Bad Idea and, even more, that having kids at the expense of your education was not recommended. So, in that sense, I had a Blue State upbringing. On the other hand, there was not a lot of indication that a job was something primarily intended to bring you personal joy. You should try to do something you liked, of course, but that was somewhat incidental. The point of a job was to make money, and you need money to meet your obligations. Education was of paramount importance in my house, but not necessarily for its own sake. Rather, a better educated person has more varied and lucrative career options. From the time I was six years old or so, I wanted to be a lawyer, which fit the bill nicely. I’m not sure what sort of reception I would have gotten had I declared a desire to get a master’s degree in order to become a poet. (And, now that I’m writing about it, I realize I could be jumbling things up a bit since different parents might have been emphasizing different things.)
Anyway, I tend to think that red state sensibilities regard the blue state tendency to defer responsibility while getting an education and deciding what you want to do with your life as so much mamby-pamby, child coddling hippy bullshit. You learn real wisdom and values through struggle, hard work, and satisfaction of duties. Blue state sensibilities suggest that the red state approach is authoritarian and backward. And, now I’m really stretching and generalizing, but I wonder if a lot of it hinges on how one views God and the afterlife. If this life is all you get, then the red state approach seems horribly misguided – if you don’t enjoy this life, then you’re pretty much wasting everything you’ll ever have.
On the other hand, if this (relatively short) life is merely a proving ground for the eternal afterlife, seeking instant gratification now at the expense of the hereafter is remarkably stupid.
In any event, it sounds like the authors have taken a credible stab at trying to explain why red states vocally put more emphasis on sexual morality and the family as an institution and, yet, blue states pretty routinely have a lower incidence of divorce and teen childbirth.