Red families vs. blue families
Today’s culture wars are framed largely around family values. Red families and blue families each hold true to their beliefs and admit little room for compromise. But what are the differences between the two sides and how are they expressed? Naomi Cahn and June Carbone investigate the question in their book "Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture," published by Oxford University Press. The distinctions are revealed especially in the way each side views sex, marriage and divorce. Blue families have adapted to the post-industrial economy and its resulting social changes while red families tend to lag in the new economy and resist the reshaping of values. Cahn is a professor of law at George Washington University Law School, and Carbone holds the chair of law, the constitution and society at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
By Naomi Cahn and June Carbone
Blue families, in order to make it possible to invest in women as well as men, defer marriage and childbearing, and reap the advantages from older partners’ greater emotional maturity and financial independence. The “bluest” areas of the country, and particularly the urban northeast, have the highest averages ages of family formation and demonstrate the greatest support for the mechanisms that effectively deter teen births. The new model also lowers fertility and produces higher rates of non-marital cohabitation.
Red families, centered in the more religious and marriage-oriented communities of the South, the mountain west and the plains, continue to embrace unity of sex, marriage and reproduction. The growing gap between the beginning of sexuality and readiness for childbearing alarms religious parents about the morality of their offspring, and higher divorce and non-marital birth rates threaten the fabric of these communities. They accordingly fight hard to reaffirm the importance of traditional values.
Yet, abstinence into the mid-twenties is unrealistic, shot gun marriages correspond with escalating divorce rates, and the prescription to delay family formation until after graduate school age carries little suasion for those who will not complete college. In addition, the growing importance of two incomes requires an adjustment in gender roles, an adjustment that may be at odds with both men and women’s expectations about marriage.
Red cultural beliefs reaffirm the importance of tradition and control of sexuality while blue cultural beliefs give more weight -- symbolic and practical -- to the promotion of equality and respect for autonomy. The different family regimes translate into different types of legal decision-making. Blue states have effectively deregulated sexuality, with increasing acceptance of non-marital sexuality, greater support for contraception and abortion, and greater recognition of a variety of family relationships. Red states insist to a much greater degree on continuing public affirmation of the importance of marriage; they are far more likely, for example, to embrace abstinence-only education and to oppose recognition of same sex couples.
Although red and blue families have very different approaches to family life, there are potential areas of agreement. First, all of the empirical literature on family stability suggests that promoting commitment matters, and that doing so requires a measure of maturity, financial realism, equal respect, keeping open the lines of communication, and watching for the warning signs of domestic violence. Commitment and gender equity are mutually reinforcing values.
Second, there may be common ground in the cultural fight on the importance of moving family formation out of the teen years. Early marriage derails education and increases the likelihood of divorce. As the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy points out, young teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, and their children do not perform as well in school as do children of older parents. Those who succeed in avoiding an improvident early birth become more likely to marry, stay married, and have children who will also have more stable family patterns.
Third, the failure to restructure the workplace to accommodate the changes in family needs affects everyone. Over the last 20 years, the largest increase in perceptions that work interferes with family involves men’s jobs. The design of full-time positions on the assumption that the worker has a full time homemaker spouse serves neither the interests of modern men who have assumed a larger share of childrearing responsibility, nor more traditional women who may have no choice but to work to support their families.
Steven E. Levingston
May 4, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: blue familes, family values, red families
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