Blue families are stronger and more stable than red families. Until recently, this was the conventional wisdom in the media and the academy. But this belief has been challenged by new reports in Family Studies and the New York Times.At least at the regional level, blue families—that is, families in areas that vote Democratic in presidential elections—do not have an advantage. It turns out that, on average, more conservative counties across the country have more marriage, less nonmarital childbearing, and more family stability for their children than do more liberal counties.
Some scholars haven’t been persuaded by the new research. For instance, economist Noah Smith, who has argued that “liberal morality is simply better adapted for creating stable two-parent families in a post-industrialized world,” wondered if the new red families vs. blue families story held up at the family level: in his words, “Try doing family-level studies” of the red vs. blue divide. We have taken up Smith’s challenge in this Institute for Family Studies research brief.
Our analysis of adults aged 20 to 60 in the 2010-2014 General Social Survey (GSS) casts doubt on Smith’s contention. Forty percent of Democrats are currently married, versus 57 percent of Republicans.1 Forty-seven percent of ever-married Democrats have been divorced, compared to 41 percent of ever-married Republicans. These data are cross-sectional, so we cannot be sure about the causal relationship between party identification, marriage, and divorce.2 But the data lend no empirical support to the view that blue families are more stable.
Instead, the GSS data and our earlier research suggest that an elective affinity—based on region, religion, culture, and economics—has emerged in the American electorate: married people are more likely to identify as Republican and unmarried people are more likely to identify as Democratic. Given that marriage generally stabilizes family life, and that there is an affinity between marriage and conservatism, it may well be that it is actually conservatives and conservativeregions that are better at fostering “stable two-parent families in a post-industrialized world.” More research is needed to investigate the effect of ideology and region on family stability over the life course.