[Welcome Naomi Cahn and June Carbone, and Host Jeremy Adam Smith, author of, The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Bread winning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.]

Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture

When I was traveling around the country interviewing bread winning mothers and care giving fathers for my book, The Daddy Shift, I discovered that reverse-traditional families were politically, culturally, and economically very diverse. The decision for the father to stay home with kids was never motivated by ideology—it was usually based on which parent made more money—but many of the moms and dads felt that taking care of kids led fathers to adopt more liberal social and political attitudes. According to these couples, the dad just became more conscious of the importance of access to the commons, things like playgrounds and health care.

“The world would be a better place if more fathers…took care of children,” said one Kansas City mom. “I think a man becomes more aware of other social issues.”

This leads to questions: Does family type shape voting patterns? Does the experience of being part of nontraditional families—such as two-income, mixed race, same-sex, or reverse-traditional—lead to more progressive political attitudes and decision-making? Will the growth of nontraditional families help lead to more progressive social change?

I wasn’t sure while writing The Daddy Shift, but everything in the book points to the last chapter, which argues that the “daddy shift”–the expansion of good fathering from pure bread winning to include care giving as well–necessitates a shift in law and public policy. I end the book by asking dads who have made the private shift to help make that public shift happen, to allow their care giving experience to drive their political participation and inform their votes. We need policies, such as paternity leave and flextime, which will help us to be the fathers we want to be.

Now, the empirical evidence is mounting that, at the very least, there is a strong correlation between family type and political identity. In Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, law professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone makes a very compelling, research-tested case for the idea that the kind of family you’re in is tightly linked to where you live, how much education you have, what you do for work, how much money you make–and how you vote come election time.

According to Cahn and Carbone, the “Red Family Paradigm” emphasizes “the unity of sex, marriage, and procreation” and is defined by early marriage and parenthood (not necessarily in that order, as shotgun marriages are more commons in red states), less education, and more hierarchical family relationships. The first chapters of the book are dedicated to showing how this way of family is rooted in states and areas that voted Republican in recent elections—and how the states that voted Democratic are defined by another, newer family model “geared for the post-industrial economy.” This “Blue Family Paradigm” is urban, educated, and egalitarian. Crucially, Cahn and Carbone find both men and women will tend to delay parenthood until they both feel a degree of emotional and financial independence, which in the twenty-first century has translated in more income and wealth as well as better outcomes for children.

Thus the conflict between Red Families and Blue Families is about more than just family type—it’s also about class. In some ways, this seems counterintuitive, for we also know that Democrats enjoy more support among poor and working class people, as well as folks of color. And indeed, we find nontraditional families in every social class and racial group. Red Families v. Blue Families also suggests a high degree of intractable polarization, because debates about sex and family tend to run high in emotion and low on evidence—and yet Cohn and Carbone suggest that we might be able to overcome this polarization by finding common ground around issues of teen pregnancy. The authors aim for hope, but evidence in their book left me feeling rather pessimistic about the possibilities for Red and Blue reconciliation.

Those are just two of the seeming paradoxes I’d like to explore in this book salon. We have Naomi Cahn and June Carbone on hand to answer your toughest questions, which you can pose as a comment to this blog entry. Go to it!