Ross Douthat’s NYT column today is an interesting reflection on the failing institution of marriage in America. Douthat begins with the history of American families, from low divorce rates 50 years ago to 41 percent of children being born out of wedlock according to a March report from the Pew Research Center. This leads into a discussion of a new book by Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, “Red Families v. Blue Families.”
The authors depict a culturally conservative “red America” that’s stuck trying to sustain an outdated social model. 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.
To Cahn and Carbone’s credit, their book is nuanced enough to complicate this liberal-friendly thesis. They acknowledge, for instance, that there are actually multiple “red family” models, from the Mormon West to the Sunbelt suburbs to the rural South.
More important, Cahn and Carbone also acknowledge one of the more polarizing aspects of the “blue family” model. Conservative states may have more teen births and more divorces, but liberal states have many more abortions.