The Baby Gap

MSNBC.com, December 9, 2004.

Over the last few decades, it has become traditional in the post-Presidential election season for activist members of the losing party to engage in recriminations against their party's standard-bearer.  Whether such recriminations make sense this year is doubtful, for John Kerry came closer to unseating a wartime President than any candidate in American history.

Indeed, the only other wartime challenger who came close was New York Governor DeWitt Clinton in 1812, who garnered 89 electoral votes, against President James Madison's 128.  Like Kerry, Clinton could have won if he had carried one more crucial swing state--Pennsylvania, in Clinton's case.

Kerry did much better than Democrat George McClellan (who lost 212-21 to Lincoln in 1864), or Republican Tom Dewey (who lost 432-99 to FDR in 1944).

This year, we are also seeing a new form of recriminations: blaming the electorate.  Initially, the blame-the-voters message emphasized that the red states which constitute America's majority are the land of gun-toting gay-hating morons who watch Fox News and actually believe in Jesus.

A newer form of red-baiting claims that the supposedly moral red states are actually in a state of hypocrisy.  For example, they vote against court-imposed gay marriage, but they watchWill & Grace on television.

A more sophisticated red-baiting argument appears in a recentposting onThe DailyKos, an enormously influential Web site among left-wing activists, and one of the highest-trafficked political Weblogs in all the blogosphere.

Kos provides a chart showing teenage birth rates by states.  Overwhelmingly, the low teenage birthrate states are blue, and the high-rate states are red.  Kos writes:

When Red States get their social problems under control, and things such as teen pregnancy down to nationwide lows, then they can try and foist their solutions on the rest of the country.
But as things currently stand, on this issue (as well as others like divorce), the Red States have no ground to stand on.  Those crazy New Englad [sic] liberals are running circles around them in this tangible measure of their residents' "values".

But this approach is not necessarily the best guide to moral behavior.

Kos is indisputably correct thatred states have higher divorce rates.  But the finding turns out to be an artifact of the higher marriagerates in those states.  If you look at the number of divorces as percent  of total marriages, then the blue-state superiority disappears.

The percentage method is not perfect.  Nevada and Hawaii end up as the champion states, but I suspect the reason is that many people travel to those states to get married (and some people impulsively get married there while on vacation).  But unlike in the olden days when divorce was hard to obtain in most of the country, but easily obtained in Nevada, not many people need to travel to another state in order to get divorced.  (Nevada's six-week residency requirement for easy divorce was adeliberate economic development strategy which was begun during the Depression.)

But overall, if you never get married, you can't get divorced.  And once marriage rates are taken into account, then red states do not appear less moral than blue states.

A similar point can be made regarding teenage birth rates.  States with lower natality rates in general (such as New England) will likely have lower teenage natality rates.  As Steve Sailer demonstrates in a forthcomingcover story for The American Conservative, the white natality rate in a particular state correlates very well with Bush's share of the vote in that state.

More significantly, there is nothing morally wrong, according to traditional Judeo-Christian values, with a marriedteenager bearing a child.  Although there's no certain proof of how old Mary was when she bore Jesus, traditional sources claim that she was a teenager, and some peg her age as low as 14.  Whether or not Mary was in fact a historical person, she is the most famous female in the world, and the existence of traditions of her as a teenage mother (with no contrary traditions claiming that she was older), suggest that "traditional values" do not regard married teenager motherhood as inherently immoral.

Under the Kos rankings, a birth to a married 19-year-old is counted as a contribution to social decay, whereas a birth to an unmarried 25 year-old is not.  The Kos method is therefore skewed against states where young people marry early, and have children early.  For example, Utah ranks 32nd in teenage birth rates (what Kos measures) but is dead last (and therefore best) in illegitimacy rates.

Table 1shows the ranking of states by illegitimate births as a percent of total births.  The ranking goes from worst to best.  I counted D.C. as a state, since it behaves like a state in the electoral college, which is where all the red/blue theorizing started.

The data are for 2001, which is the most recent year available, and come from the Statistical Abstract of the United States 2003table 94.

Above (meaning worse than) the national average illegitimacy rate are 8 blue states and  16 red.  At or below (better than) the national average are 12 blue and 15 red.  Among the worst 10 states, 2 are blue, and 8 are red.  Among the best ten states, 4 are blue and 6 are red.

Another key index of social decay is parental absence (for which father absence tends to be much more common).  Of course not every single-parent household is a sign of social malaise.  Sometimes mothers or fathers die before their children grow up.  Sometimes children are better off after parents divorce.  But on the whole, children tend to be better-off in married households.  And traditional values, of course, favor married households for raising children.

Using data from the Statistical Abstract of the United States,table 68, for each state I calculated the percentage of non-married households having children under 18, as a percentage of total households with children under 18.  The results are presented inTable 2. For example, in the District of Columbia, out of every 100 households which have a child under 18 years old, 57 of those households did not include a married couple.  Conversely, in Utah, for every 100 households with a child under 18 years old, there are only 18 households without a married couple.

As with Table 1, the states are ranked in order, from worst to best.

There were 20 states which were above (worse than) the national average rate of 28% of non-married households for children. Of these 20, 14 were red states and 6 were blue states.

Of the states that were equal to or better than the national average, there were 18 red and 13 blue states.

Among the worst eleven (because of a tie of 10th place), 4 states were blue, and 7 were red. Among the best 12 (because of ties), were 4 blues and 8 reds.

Red states predominated in every category (both good and bad), apparently because there are more red states than blue states.  If we're being competitive, then we would have to say that blue states are the winner.  The good:bad ratios for blue states were notably better than the same ratios for red states.

But it's a much more mixed picture than the one presented by Kos, in which blue states are almost the only good states, and red states are almost the only bad states.

At the far end of both scales, we see Utah as the healthiest, and the District of Columbia as the most pathological.

Regionally, the Deep South (very red) and the Southern Rocky Mountain states (slightly red, and at least partially south of the 37th parallel) were the worst.  The best regions were New England (blue), the Northern Rocky Mountains (red), and the Upper Midwest (mixed).

What the data show is that there are successes and failures all over the country, and from regions of all political persuasions.  Whatever color your state, your state could probably do better by looking at success stories in other states, without regard for whether the other states voted for Bush or Kerry.

After all, we are all citizens of the United States of America, and we all have a lot to learn from each other.  Celebrate diversity.

Table 1

Table 2 

 

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