Baby Gap: How birthrates color the electoral map
How birthrates color the electoral map
By Steve Sailer
Despite the endless verbiage expended trying to explain America’s remarkably stable division into Republican and Democratic regions, almost no one has mentioned the obscure demographic factor that correlated uncannily with states’ partisan splits in both 2000 and 2004.
Clearly, the issues that so excite political journalists had but a meager impact on most voters. For example, the press spent the last week of the 2004 campaign in a tizzy over the looting of explosives at Iraq’s al-Qaqaa munitions dump, but, if voters even noticed al-Qaqaa, their reactions were predetermined by their party loyalty.
The 2000 presidential election, held during peace and prosperity, became instantly famous for illuminating a land culturally divided into a sprawling but thinly populated “red” expanse of Republicans broken up by small but densely peopled “blue” archipelagos of Democrats.
Four years of staggering events ensued, during which President Bush discarded his old “humble” foreign policy for a new one of nearly Alexandrine ambitions. Yet the geographic and demographic profiles of Bush voters in 2004 turned out almost identical to 2000, with the country as a whole simply nudged three points to the right.
Only a few groups appeared to have moved more than the average. The counties within commuting distance of New York’s World Trade Center became noticeably less anti-Bush. Yet even the one purported sizable demographic change—the claim by the troubled exit poll that Bush picked up nine points among Hispanics—appears to be an exaggeration caused by small sample sizes and poor survey techniques. In the real world, Hispanic counties swung toward Bush only about as much as everybody else did.
That the president launched a war under false pretenses no doubt caused a few highly-informed constituencies, such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA, and the subscribers to this magazine, to shift many of their votes, but almost every group large enough to be measurable by exit polling was relatively stable. If they supported Bush’s foreign policy in 2000, they supported his contrary stance in 2004 and vice versa.
Still, this doesn’t mean voters are choosing red or blue frivolously. Indeed, voters are picking their parties based on differing approaches to the most fundamentally important human activity: having babies. The white people in Republican-voting regions consistently have more children than the white people in Democratic-voting regions. The more kids whites have, the more pro-Bush they get.
I’ll focus primarily on Caucasians, who overall voted for Bush 58-41, in part because they are doing most of the arguing over the meaning of the red-blue division. The reasons blacks vote Democratic are obvious, and other racial blocs are smaller. Whites remain the 800-pound gorilla of ethnic electoral groups, accounting for over three out of every four votes.
The single most useful and understandable birthrate measure is the “total fertility rate.” This estimates, based on recent births, how many children the average woman currently in her childbearing years will have. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2002 the average white woman was giving birth at a pace consistent with having 1.83 babies during her lifetime, or 13 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. This below-replacement level has not changed dramatically in three decades.
States, however, differ significantly in white fertility. The most fecund whites are in heavily Mormon Utah, which, not coincidentally, was the only state where Bush received over 70 percent. White women average 2.45 babies in Utah compared to merely 1.11 babies in Washington, D.C., where Bush earned but 9 percent. The three New England states where Bush won less than 40 percent—Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island—are three of the four states with the lowest white birthrates, with little Rhode Island dipping below 1.5 babies per woman.
Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility (just as he did in 2000), and 25 out of the top 26, with highly unionized Michigan being the one blue exception to the rule. (The least prolific red states are West Virginia, North Dakota, and Florida.)
In sharp contrast, Kerry won the 16 states at the bottom of the list, with the Democrats’ anchor states of California (1.65) and New York (1.72) having quite infertile whites.
Among the 50 states plus Washington, D.C., white total fertility correlates at a remarkably strong 0.86 level with Bush’s percentage of the 2004 vote. (In 2000, the correlation was 0.85.) In the social sciences, a correlation of 0.2 is considered “low,” 0.4 “medium,” and 0.6 “high.”
You could predict 74 percent of the variation in Bush’s shares just from knowing each state’s white fertility rate. When the average fertility goes up by a tenth of a child, Bush’s share normally goes up by 4.5 points.
In a year of predictably partisan books, one lively surprise has been What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, a left-wing journalist from Kansas who, after a sojourn in Chicago, now lives with his wife and single child in the Democratic stronghold of Washington, D.C. Frank is puzzled by why conservative Republicans in his home state are obsessed with cultural issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and teaching evolution in the schools instead of the leftist economic populism that Frank admires in Kansas’s past.
While the Christian Right in Kansas doesn’t much hold with Darwin, they are doing well at the basic Darwinian task of reproducing themselves: pro-life Kansas has the fourth-highest white fertility in the country at 2.06 babies per woman, and the birthrate of the conservative Republicans that Frank finds so baffling is likely to be even higher. On the crucial question of whether a group can be bothered not to die out, “What’s the Matter with Massachusetts?” would be a more pertinent question. Massachusetts’s whites are failing to replace themselves, averaging only 1.6 babies per woman, and the state’s liberal Democrats are probably reproducing even less than that.
So white birthrates and Republican voting are closely correlated, but what causes what? The arrow of causality seems to flow in both directions.
To understand what’s driving this huge political phenomenon, you have to think like a real-estate shopper, not like an intellectual. Everybody loves to talk real estate, but the sharp insights into how the world works that you hear while shooting the breeze about houses and neighborhoods seldom work their way into prestigious discourse about public affairs.
As you’ve seen on all those red-blue maps, most of America’s land is red, even though Kerry won 48 percent of the vote. Even excluding vast Alaska, Bush’s counties are only one-fourth as densely populated on average as Kerry’s counties. Lower density helps explain why red regions both attract the baby-oriented and encourage larger families among those already there.
A dozen years ago, University of Chicago sociologist Edward O. Laumann and others wrote a tome with the soporific postmodern title The Social Organization of Sexuality. I wrote to them and suggested a follow-up called The Sexual Organization of Society because, in my experience with Chicago, where people lived coincided with their sexual status. In 1982, when I moved to Chicago as a young single man, I sought out detailed advice on where the greatest density of pretty girls lived and there rented a 21st-floor apartment with a stunning view of Lake Michigan. I became engaged three years later, and so, mission accomplished, I moved to a less chic neighborhood with more affordable rents. Two years later, when my bride became pregnant, we relocated to an even more unfashionable spot where we could buy ample square footage. (To my satisfaction, Laumann’s team just this year published a categorization of Chicago’s neighborhoods entitled The Sexual Organization of the City.)
My experience is hardly unusual. Singles often move to cities because the density of other singles makes them good places to become unsingle. But singles, especially women, generally vote Democratic. For example, in the 2002 midterm elections, only 39 percent of unmarried women and 44 percent of unmarried men voted for a GOP candidate for the House of Representatives. In contrast, 56 percent of married women voted for the GOP, similar to their husbands’ 58 percent. The celebrated gender gap is, in truth, largely a marriage gap among women.
When city couples marry, they face major decisions: do they enjoy the adult-oriented cultural amenities of the city so much that they will stick it out, or do they head for the suburbs, exurbs, or even the country to afford more space for a growing family?
Couples attempting to raise children in a big blue city quickly learn the truth of what bond trader Sherman McCoy’s father told him in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities: “If you want to live in New York, you’ve got to insulate, insulate, insulate.” Manhattan liberals all believe in celebrating diversity in theory but typically draw the line at subjecting their own offspring to it in the public schools. With Manhattan private K-12 school tuitions now approaching $25,000, insulating multiple children rapidly becomes too expensive for all but the filthy rich.
In tempting contrast, the cost-of-living calculator provided by Realtor.com says that a $100,000 salary in liberal Manhattan buys only as much as a $38,000 salary in conservative Pinehurst, North Carolina. Likewise, a San Francisco couple earning $100,000 between them can afford just as much in Cedar City, Utah if the husband can find a $44,000-a-year job—and then the wife can stay home with their children. Moreover, the culture of Cedar City is more conducive to child rearing than San Francisco. Having insulated themselves through distance rather than money, they can now send their kids to public schools. (Among red states, the South has lower white fertility than the northern Great Plains and Great Basin, perhaps because many Southern conservatives, like many Manhattan liberals, prefer private schools, which makes children more expensive than out in Lewis & Clark Country, where the public schools are popular because they aren’t terribly diverse.) In Cedar City, the wife won’t feel as unprestigious for being a stay-at-home mom as she would in San Francisco. And mom won’t have to chauffeur the kids everywhere because traffic and crime are light enough that they can ride their bikes.
With more children, the couple will have less money per child to buy insulation from America’s corrosive media culture, so they are likely to look to the government for help. Typically, red-region parents don’t ask for much, often just for quasi-symbolic endorsements of family values, the non-economic gestures that drive Thomas Frank crazy. But there’s nothing irrational about trying to protect and guide your children. As the socially conservative black comedian Chris Rock advises fathers, “Your main job is to keep your daughter off The Pole” (i.e., to keep her from becoming a stripper).
That red-region parents want their politicians to endorse morality does not necessarily mean that red staters always behave more morally than blue staters. While there are well-behaved red states such as Utah and Colorado, hell-raising white Texans are 3.4 times more likely than white New Yorkers to be behind bars. Similarly, whites in conservative Mississippi and South Carolina are one-sixth as likely as blacks in those states to be imprisoned, compared to the national average of one-ninth. By contrast, in ultra-liberal Washington D.C., whites are only one-fifty-sixth as likely to be in the slammer as blacks.
The late socialist historian Jim Chapin pointed out that it was perfectly rational for parents with more children than money to ask their political and cultural leaders to help them insulate their kids from bad examples, even, or perhaps especially, if the parents themselves are not perfect role models.
Focusing on children, insulation, and population density reveals that blue-region white Democrats’ positions on vouchers, gun control, and environmentalism are motivated partly by fear of urban minorities.
In 2001, the Wall Street Journal’s favorite mayor, Brett Schundler, ran for governor of New Jersey on a platform of vouchers to help inner-city children attend better schools in the suburbs. The now notorious Democrat Jim McGreevey beat him badly because white suburban moderates shunned this Republican who put the welfare of urban minority children ahead of their own. These homeowners were scraping together big mortgage payments precisely to get their kids into exclusive suburban school districts insulated from what they saw as the ghetto hellions that Schundler hoped to unleash on their children. They had much of their net worths tied up in their homes, and their property values depended on the local public schools’ high test scores, which they feared wouldn’t survive an onslaught of slum children. So they voted Democratic to keep minorities in their place.
The endless gun-control brouhaha, which on the surface appears to be a bitter battle between liberal and conservative whites, also features a cryptic racial angle. What blue-region white liberals actually want is for the government to disarm the dangerous urban minorities that threaten their children’s safety. Red-region white conservatives, insulated by distance from the Crips and the Bloods, don’t care that white liberals’ kids are in peril. Besides, in sparsely populated Republican areas, where police response times are slow and the chances of drilling an innocent bystander are slim, guns make more sense for self-defense than in the cities and suburbs.
White liberals, angered by white conservatives’ lack of racial solidarity with them, yet bereft of any vocabulary for expressing such a verboten concept, pretend that they need gun control to protect them from gun-crazy rural rednecks, such as the ones Michael Moore demonized in “Bowling for Columbine,” thus further enraging red-region Republicans.
Likewise, liberals in blue areas such as Northern California pioneer environmental restrictions on development in part to keep out illegal immigrants and other poor minorities. Thinly populated Republican areas are pro-development because increasing density raises property values as once remote regions obtain roads, sewer hookups, cable television, local shopping, and nice restaurants. If poorly planned, however, overcrowding causes property values to lag, allowing poor people to move in.
Conservative Southern California, home to Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, was traditionally more laissez faire than liberal Northern California, ultimately allowing itself to be inundated by poorly educated illegal aliens, wrecking the public schools. In contrast, environmentalist—and thus expensive—Northern California attracted a variety of skilled immigrants. Eventually, many Los Angeles Republicans either fled inland or decided that those San Francisco Democrats had the right idea all along.
Now illegal immigrants are flocking to other pro-growth red states, such as North Carolina and Georgia, and may eventually turn those states Democratic due both to the Democratic-voting immigrants’ very high birthrates and to a California-style drift toward environmentalism among its white voters as laissez faire proves inadequate to keep out illegal aliens.
Nobody noticed that the famous blue-red gap was a white baby gap because the subject of white fertility is considered disreputable. But I believe the truth is better for us than ignorance, lies, or wishful thinking. At least, it’s certainly more interesting.
Steve Sailer is TAC’s film critic. He also writes for VDARE.com and iSteve.com.
December 20, 2004 issue
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