But moral panic won't help lower divorce rates and teen pregnancy
in conservative states; education will.
Ask most people about the differences between families who live
in "red" (conservative) states and "blue" (liberal) states, and
you'll hear a common refrain: Massachusetts and California are
hotbeds of divorce and teen pregnancy, while Nebraska and Texas are
havens of virtue and stability.
The reality is quite different. And the evidence should force all
of us - conservative and liberal alike - to think carefully about
the policies we set to help American families thrive in the 21st
According to a new federal study, women with a college education
are much more likely to be married than are women who have never
graduated from high school. And men and women who married after the
age of 25 have lower divorce rates than couples who were married at
We could have predicted these results. The US family system,
which once differed little by class or region, has become a marker
of race, culture, and religion. A new "blue" family paradigm has
handsomely rewarded those who invest in women's as well as men's
education and defer childbearing until the couple is better
established. These families, concentrated in urban areas and the
coasts, have seen their divorce rates fall back to the level of the
1960s, incomes rise, and nonmarital births remain rare. With later
marriage has also come greater stability and less divorce.
Societal support for high school sweethearts who want to tie the
knot at graduation or for shotgun weddings - where the bride is
accidentally pregnant - no longer exists.
Difficulties in the "red" world, meanwhile, have grown worse.
Traditionalists continue to advocate abstinence until marriage and
bans on abortion. They've said an emphatic "no" to the practices
that have made the new "blue" system workable.
Yet, paradoxically, as sociologist Brad Wilcox reports,
evangelical Protestant teens have sex at slightly earlier ages on
average than their nonevangelical peers (respectively, 16.38 years
old versus 16.52 years old), evangelical Protestant couples are also
slightly more likely to divorce than nonevangelical couples, and
evangelical mothers are actually more likely to work full time
outside the home than their nonevangelical peers.
While the devout who make traditional marriages work have happy
stable lives, economic circumstances have made it harder to find
matches that support gendered family roles and to get marginal
couples through family tensions.
Sociologist Paul Amato concludes that among the marriages least
likely to last are those in which women who would prefer homemaking
roles end up working outside of the home much more than they
expected because of the husband's inability to support the family.
These factors reflect class and cultural differences, but all of
our research suggests that the great recession is likely to make
things worse. …