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The 2004 presidential campaign was going on while Carbone and Cahn began their research. So-called values voters gave Bush his winning margin. But his critics took pleasure in noting the teen births and failed marriages streaming out of red-state America.
People in red states do look pretty silly moralizing on same-sex marriage and other topics. According to one survey, evangelical Protestants begin having sex at the average age of 16.3, just a few months after the typical nonreligious teen becomes active (15.9). "They're having sex as much as anybody else," Carbone says.
But hypocrisy isn't the only factor at work.
Carbone and Cahn have noticed that red states and blue states congregate at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the average age at first marriage. The youngest brides and grooms live in Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas and Kentucky — all red states.
Families form at earlier ages in red states partly because an unintended pregnancy is more likely to be met with marriage than an abortion. (Blue states have higher abortion rates.) Opponents of abortion rights cheer decisions to take unexpected pregnancies to term. But shotgun marriages frequently end in divorce.
According to Carbone, Bristol Palin's pregnancy provides a window into the lives of red-state families. Palin, the daughter of Alaska governor and former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, gave birth to a boy in December. She and the baby's father, Levi Johnston, are now 18.
"Think about what they're going to be like if they have two kids, which is predictable within the next four years, and he's, let's say, 21," Carbone says. "What's he doing? Your average 21-year-old guy, even if he's married and has kids, is not fully employed. He's going out drinking with the boys. He's much more likely to be unfaithful. He's not so attentive to the wife's emotional needs."
Carbone says it's likely that Bristol Palin won't put up with this kind of behavior.
"In another era, if he was bringing home enough money, she'd be stuck with him," Carbone says. "There'd be this huge societal support that says, You get pregnant, you get married. You get married, you stay married. You can't leave."
But the supports that used to keep such marriages together, such as good-paying jobs for those with a high-school education or less are disappearing, Carbone says, making divorce common.
The supposedly wicked blue states, meanwhile, are very "pro-family" by some markers. The states with the lowest rates of divorce, for instance, are Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Illinois and Connecticut.
Carbone says blue states have designed a new family culture to fit the times. In blue states, marriage and childbearing are more often put off until people reach emotional maturity and financial security.
Couples who delay parenthood generally don't need to be coerced to stay together. "I mean, let's face it, people in their mid-30s with two young kids aren't busy running around," Carbone says.
Also, children in blue states display more abstemious sex habits. The classic blue-state teen, Carbone says, is more likely to delay sex than a red-state teen.
Teens in blue-state families are not prudes. Rather, they're mortified that they might make a baby. "The immoral part is really not so much the sex as having a child that you're not prepared to take care of," Carbone says. "That's really viewed as immoral."
Carbone had her first child when she was 28, a young age relative to her peers. In 1987, she and her husband, Bill Black, who is also a professor at UMKC, moved to Santa Clara, California, to teach. At the end of the school year, she gave birth to their third child.