THE PULPIT: Book looks at family disconnect

December 14, 2008

We've all heard about red states and blue states.

Sometime next year we will learn about "red families" and "blue families" in a book that's bound to be controversial.

"Red Families, Blue Families" (Oxford University Press), written by two family law professors, turns the whole family-values mantra on its head.

Based on numerous studies and surveys, coauthors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone found that red families - or socially conservative evangelicals aligned with the Republican Party - have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages, marry earlier and have higher divorce rates than the more secular blue families.

Red and blue families both want to avoid teen pregnancy - red families through abstinence-only programs and blue through education about sex, contraception and the effect an unplanned pregnancy can have on career goals, the authors say.

But blue families are more successful at it, Cahn and Carbone said in a joint interview. Their conclusion: Abstinence-only programs don't work.

Blue families are raising children who are better equipped to compete in a changing world, said Carbone, a professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School. Women who delay marriage and childbearing are more likely to get the education necessary for well-paying jobs. Because they marry later in life and have a viable career, they create a stable family environment.

"Red families, or more accurately, the politicians and ministers who have pushed a moral-values agenda, reject this new culture," Carbone said.

Red and blue families also react differently to teen pregnancy.

Case in point, Carbone said, was the reaction to the revelation that Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant and planned to marry the father, 18-yearold Levi, who dropped out of high school to work and support his sudden family. What liberals saw as a tragedy, evangelicals embraced.

"For red families, this is the way the world is," Carbone said. "If teens have sex and get pregnant, they have to understand the consequences. You can't have an abortion. The only way to deal with it is to get married.

"What bothers evangelicals is not that teens get pregnant, but if they had an abortion or did not marry."

Although "Red Families, Blue Families" suggests that the abstinence model has failed, this does not mean that religion is to be faulted, said Cahn, a professor at George Washington University Law School.

"Evangelicals do not need to change their religion," Cahn said. "But they do need to reconcile their beliefs with a changing world and economy. There is some disconnect that needs to be dealt with."

For more on Cahn and Carbon's provocative study, go to my blog, "The Pulpit," at


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