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The concept of "family values" has long been a bedrock conservative principle. But are the traditions conservatives espouse detrimental to creating stable families? Citing a recent study by family law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, Jonathan Rauch says they are.

Arguing that the familial mores of red states are antediluvian in the age of birth control and skilled jobs, Rauch summarizes: "In red America, families form adults; in blue America, adults form families." In the past, people who married young tended to succeed because their education was already complete. But a rise in specialized jobs has led to more time spent in school, and the proliferation of female birth control led to a decrease in "the shotgun marriage."

As a result, Rauch posits: "New norms arise for this environment, norms geared to prevent premature family formation. [...] Instead of emphasizing abstinence until marriage, it enjoins: Don't form a family until after you have finished your education and are equipped for responsibility." Because "blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age," states that go Democrat have a higher average age at first marriage, and those marriages are more likely to last.

Rauch ends with a sober summation of the consequence of red states' self-defeating "family values."

The result of this red quandary, Cahn and Carbone argue, is a self-defeating backlash. Moral traditionalism fails to prevent premarital sex and early childbirth. Births precipitate more early marriages and unwed parenthood. That, in turn, increases family breakdown while reducing education and earnings.

Does the traditional definition of "family values" in fact lead to the erosion of family life?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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