A spate of articles on evangelicals, fundamentalists and conservatives have made just this case, arguing that conservatives of one stripe or another are family values hypocrites. Writing in The New York Times, for instance, Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, “conservatives thunder about ‘family values’ but don’t practice them.” To add insult to injury, Kristof also argued that it is actually“liberals [who] practice the values that conservatives preach.” His primary evidence: Red states often do worse than blue states when it comes to family-related outcomes such as divorce and teen pregnancy.
Here, Kristof is indebted to a book by family scholars Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, Red Families v. Blue Families, which makes the case that blue states have more successful and stable families than do red states. Arkansas, for instance, has one of the highest divorce rates in the nation, whereas Massachusetts has one of the lowest. Cahn and Carbone go on to contend that blue families, more than red families, “encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families.” In other words, blue Americans are more successful at forging exactly the sort of stable, two-parent families that red Americans say they support.
But this state-based argument obscures more than it illuminates about the links between partisanship and family life for ordinary families in America. Scholars and journalists who have bought into the idea that red Americans are hypocrites on family values because some red states do poorly when it comes to family stability are committing what is called the “ecological fallacy” of conflating the family behaviors of individual conservatives with the family behaviors of states dominated by conservatives. So, while it is true Republican states in the South have more family instability than Democratic states in the North, that does not mean Republicans as individuals necessarily have more unstable families than Democrats as individuals.
Indeed, when we look not at states but at counties in the United States, we see that counties that lean Republican across the country as a whole have more marriage, less nonmarital childbearing, and more family stability than counties that lean Democratic. In fact, an Institute for Family Studies report I authored found, “teens in red counties are more likely to be living with their biological parents, compared to children living in bluer counties.” So, even at the community level, the story about marriage and family instability looks a lot different depending on whether or not one is looking at state or county trends. At the county level, then, the argument that Red America is doing worse than Blue America isn’t true.
Finally, when we turn to the individual level, the conservatives-are-family-values-hypocrites thesis really falls apart. Republicans are more likely to be married, and happily married, than independents and Democrats, as Nicholas Wolfinger and I recently showed in a research brief for the Institute for Family Studies. They are also less likely to cheat on their spouses and less likely to be divorced, compared with independents and Democrats. So, Donald Trump is the exception, not the norm, for Republicans.
Family patterns for parents are particularly noteworthy, since children are more likely to thrive when they are raised by stably married parents in good relationships. Read More: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/28/no-republicans-arent-hypocrites-on-family-values-215873