Thursday, July 29, 2010

Red Family, Blue Family: Which Family, Mormon Family?

A fascinating new book came out this year by authors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone entitled Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. In it the authors juxtapose two increasingly polarized family arrangements in America, and discuss the implications of that trend.  What enthralls me is trying to fit the Mormon Family into the structure- it seems some portions of the LDS population are teetering on the very fault line between the two camps.

"“Blue states,” that is, the states that voted Democratic in the 2004
presidential election, have moved toward a new family model. Blue families
are characterized by greater wealth, higher average levels of education, greater
urbanization, lower fertility levels, and lower levels of church attendance
They have been among the first to embrace a new family model, which we term
“the new middle class morality,” that responds to the post-industrial economy
by delaying childbearing and investing in the educational and workplace
opportunities of both men and women
." (emphases added)

"The “red states,” that is, the states that voted Republican in the last
presidential election, have not just lagged in adjusting to the new model, but
they are increasingly saying “no” to its imperatives. Most prominently in the
mountain west, the rural plains, and the South, these states continue to
emphasize a more traditional family system that celebrates marriage as the
institution ordained to promote the unity of sex, procreation and childrearing
This traditional system, in tandem with religious teachings about sin and guilt,
places a premium on the control of sexuality. As a result, it encourages
marriage relatively soon after (if not before) the beginning of sexual activity,
identifies responsible childbearing with family form rather than economic self-sufficiency
or emotional maturity, and embraces more authoritarian models of
parenting and the state
-- both should be able and willing to intervene to
promote the “right” moral values. Within red families, abstinence outside of
marriage is a moral imperative, the shotgun marriage is the preferred solution to
an improvident pregnancy, and socialization into traditional gender roles is
critical to marital stability
. Abortion is an abomination not only because it
violates religious teachings about the beginning of life, but also because it
represents a determination to evade the consequences of immoral conduct. And
gay marriage is, if anything, worse than abortion – the symbol of the ability to
flout moral teachings in the name of individualism and choice

("The demographic data supports the emergence of two strikingly different
life cycle patterns in the United States, patterns that are correlated with a state’s
political votes in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.")

It seems to me that LDS doctrines and positions on these families issues have traditionally been red.  However, the church's emphasis on higher education, as well as its demographic shifts and eschewing of divorce, make it look increasingly blue (especially among the better educated, more affluent segments of the LDS population- e.g., the segment I live in).  Do most LDS families you know look more like the blue or red below?  How about the environments those families live in- are they more blue or more red?

(A few notes affirming the book's credibility: 1) I counted a whopping 760ish footnotes in the 209 page book; 2) I have heard from a number of sources, including from an author Cahn/Carbone cite who isn't entirely friendly to their views, that the book represents high-caliber scholarship; 3) I've come across Cahn and Carbone's articles frequently in my family law research; and 4) I've noticed they are often cited by other scholars.)

-Blue states have unprecedented numbers who will never marry, falling fertility rates and considerable concern about the lack of commitment within intimate relationships.
- Two primary demographic factors distinguish red families from
blue ones. The first is age. The average age of marriage in the United States as a
whole is now 25 for women and near 27 for men. In Massachusetts, among the
bluest of blue states, it is 27 for women and 29 for men. In Utah, the average
woman marries before she turns 22, the average man before 24. Yet, full
physical and mental maturity does not take place until the mid-twenties, and
marriage before the age of twenty-five is a significant risk factor for divorce.
Testosterone levels peak around age 25, and the impulsive behavior and risk-taking
associated with late adolescence does not begin to stabilize until the mid-twenties. Delayed marriage, however, requires addressing sexuality on terms other than abstinence, and marriage before full emotional and financial maturity requires a level of support no longer available for large parts of the population.

- postponing childrearing until the parents achieve a measure of
financial self-sufficiency, by which time the peak periods of testosterone
production have passed, and couples can be expected to form stable
relationships with a minimum of societal effort.

- the laws of blue states guarantee access to contraception and abortion, their courts are
generally less likely to consider sexual issues (such as adultery or sexual
orientation) in custody decisions, and they are less likely to rely on abstinence education. 

-sixteen states with the lowest fertility rates are blue.
- blue state family values: greater emphasis is placed on equality, empathy and tolerance.
- In areas of the country that are more supportive of gay and lesbian relationships, or
among groups that marry later, sexual orientation and identity is more likely to
be firmly established before entry into a long- term relationship.

-Although voters in red states care profoundly about morality and marriage, red states have the highest divorce rates in the country. Although red states have the lowest abortion rates, their teens are also more likely to become pregnant and to give birth to children the parents are ill-equipped
to raise. Red states are poorer and the resources available to cushion the consequences of family fragility may be dramatically less. Given the inherent difficulties of controlling sexual behavior and the atrophy of the social forces that historically stigmatized non-marital births and coerced unhappy
couples to stay together, the red states must either increase their efforts to reinstill the right values or give up the fight.

- Regular church-goers appear to be more comfortable, for
example, with the use of force over diplomacy, authoritarian leadership styles,
state intervention in family life, and stricter parenting styles. As a result, they
do not just hold different views on issues such as the acceptability of nonmarital
cohabitation or homosexuality; they also respond to different arguments
and start with different assumptions about the role of the state.

-often more rural, and more working class cultures in which adults are ready to
begin childbearing at younger ages, and expect to marry shortly after women
become sexually active. Emphasizing abstinence education, legal control by
parents of teen contraception and abortion decisions, less tolerance of gay and
lesbian sexual behavior, their laws express continuing disapproval of nonmarital

- states with the highest divorce rates in 2004 were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and Kentucky, while those with the lowest are primarily, though not entirely, blue states.  family strategies that either emphasize marrying young, or marriage as the solution to an improvident pregnancy are likely to increase rates of divorce, all other things being equal. 
- nineteen states with the highest fertility rates are red
- negative attitudes toward homosexuality tend to correspond with red/blue divisions more
generally. The most negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians, for example,
are held in the South, the least negative in the East, more negative in rural than
urban areas, by those with more conservative political beliefs, and by the least

- youthful marriages often occur before young adults have
fully worked through their own sexuality. As a result, family members may
first become aware of homosexual behavior in the context of divorce.

The authors note that red and blue families affirm very different values.  "The more intense fights come over the extension of state approval to traditionally “sinful” acts: abstinence education in public schools (with education about contraception implying acceptance of non-marital sexuality), abortion and same-sex marriage, and non-marital cohabitation in custody conflicts. These issues go to the core of the values divide."

"The courts, in their day-to-day decision-making on intimate family matters often act
as midwives guiding the birth of new values... Recognition that there may be two (or more) internally
coherent and conflicting family systems raises challenges for a federal system
whether or not they are caught up in partisan challenges."

Conflicting family systems can make family law disputes very difficult to decide: "If a court, for example, decides to award custody of a five-year-old to the adulterous mother who has cared for the child since birth rather than the faithful father who has been stationed abroad, the practical impact of a best interest of the child analysis may appear to conflict with the moral symbolism of the outcome."

Do you think the red way's the best way?
"the shift away from marriage and two-parent families has undeniably had
negative consequences for children. It is a mistake, however, to see the
transformation only in terms of family disintegration. Underlying the changes
and less visible than the Playboy centerfolds that merit denunciation from the
pulpit is a new middle class ethic – with handsome rewards for those able to
reap its benefits. The college educated, who postpone childrearing until the
parents achieve a measure of financial self-sufficiency and emotional maturity,
have become more likely to marry and less likely to divorce than the rest of the
population, with two-parent families that remain intact
, replicating the statistics
that existed before no-fault divorce, the pill and legalized abortion
. The rest of
the country has seen skyrocketing rates of non-marital births, divorce, and
single-parent families, magnifying the effects of income inequality on children
 The hallmark of this new middle-class ethic is later ages of family formation,
when adult behavior has stabilized... for those who avoid early child-bearing, conventional families with two married parents and a high degree of stability follow to a remarkable degree
with a minimum of external coercion

It looks to me like each family/lifestyle has significant pros and significant cons, which makes neither a clearly superior cultural choice.  For instance, though the red family looks more like the LDS family historically, red states have a much higher divorce rate and lower education levels.  The blue family also flourishes more in an information-based economy, which increasingly describes America and, indeed, Western democracies more generally. 

Other interesting quotes:

"marriage at younger ages is a risky enterprise. It
has historically required a high degree of community-reinforced socialization
into marital roles – including stereotypical gender roles, male financial
contributions and female dependence – to succeed. New research emphasizes
that full emotional maturity does not occur until the mid-twenties, and the less
than fully mature early twenties brain (especially if male) is primed for risktaking
and sexual experimentation. At the same time, the modern economy
provides fewer opportunities for the men who are ready to start families in their
early twenties to move into productive employment."

"expecting abstinence until the mid-twenties is unrealistic. Social science
research does suggest that religious women start sexuality activity later, but
more than half of even weekly church-goers were no longer virgins by the age
of 18; it further suggests that well over 90% of all adults engage in sex before
they marry, and that even those who delay sexual activity into their twenties are
likely to do so.  Moreover, marriage at an early age – particularly one
compelled by an improvident pregnancy – is unlikely to last, and the children
produced by dysfunctional unions a greater drain on public and grandparent
resources. To the extent that abstinence and early marriage have worked
historically, they have required a high degree of public consensus and
reinforcement of appropriate behavior. Nationally, that consensus is gone."

From an op-ed response: "First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages, and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today, couples with college and (especially) graduate degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rates and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock.
For the rest of the country, this comfortable equilibrium remains out of reach. In the underclass (black, white and Hispanic alike), intact families are now an endangered species. For middle America, the ideal of the two-parent family endures, but the reality is much more chaotic: early marriages coexist with frequent divorces, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate keeps inching upward." the op-ed continues: "By insisting (unrealistically) on chastity before marriage, Cahn and Carbone argue, social conservatives guarantee that their children will get pregnant early and often (see Palin, Bristol), leading to teen childbirth, shotgun marriages and high divorce rates.
This self-defeating cycle could explain why socially conservative states have more family instability than, say, the culturally liberal Northeast. If you’re looking for solid marriages, head to Massachusetts, not Alabama" (emphasis added).  Last piece from the op-ed: "Whether it’s attainable for most Americans or not, the “blue family” model clearly works: it leads to marital success and material prosperity, and it’s well suited to our mobile, globalized society. By comparison, the “red family” model can look dysfunctional — an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don’t always match up with the facts of contemporary life.  But it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion."
(book pg. 209):  "promoting healthy families can only come... with greater flexibility in the workplace itself, encouraging flex-time, family leaves, and both male and female assumption of family responsibilities.  Second, the continued acquisition of the education, training, and experience that increase human capital should be a lifetime enterprise [looks like "lifelong learning" - an aim of a BYU education].  Third, we need to rethink the transition to adulthood for those unlikely to complete college.  Apprenticeships, family-friendly community college, vocational training, and more direct links between education and employment might do more to promote family stability than marriage promotion efforts" (emphases added). 

 A 70 page "working paper" by the authors with the same title as the book, Red Families v. Blue Families, is available to you for free if you'd like to read it.  The content is very similar to the book, which I have in my grimy hands right now.  My excerpts above come mostly from the pdf.

1. Go here.
2. Click "One-Click Download" at the top.
3.  Either a) "Create Free Account," then come back, type in ID and Password, then "Sign In and Download," or b) click the "Download Anonymously" tab, then click "Download."



  1. I think the links between education, work availability and family stability are interesting. You mentioned the line about continuing education being supportive of families, which seems like a no-brainer for many Mormons. I also think it's interesting the number of high-quality (though sometimes stereotyped as low brain-power) jobs that are available with non-university education. I feel like vocational training represents and under-respected method of career preparation.

  2. Good point on the under-respected methods of career prep, Bryan. Reminds me of an editorial about the value of "Dirty Jobs" and how some people make fixing septic sewer pumps or porta-potty transport or separating chickens into very profitable careers, and choose to be passionate about disrespected work. They are often both happy and rich.

  3. I think Mormons are purple:).

    I liked the quote on page 209.

    Are there really still shotgun weddings? Maybe I'm out of the scene, but I thought that was just an old-time stereotype. Do you actually know people for whom that was the case?

    Why in the initial paragraph descriptions of blue and red does it sound like the blues are educated, wealthy and responsible while the reds are sexually frustrated? Did the book give any positive non-sex related descriptions of the reds?

    I'm wondering--did the book say anything about people who are raised red and then go blue? Or blues who go red? What are the dynamics to that? If a blue person was raised by blue parents are they more/less likely to marry/marry later and than a blue person who was raised by red parents?


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