Double Checking the Chastener

While I’m proud to see him touting New England’s Roman Catholics as a pivotal demographic, University of Connecticut and Catholic University professor William D’Antonio was a bit bold in his comments last week in the Boston Globe:

For all the Bible Belt talk about family values, it is the people from Kerry’s home state, along with their neighbors in the Northeast corridor, who live these values. Indeed, it is the “blue” states, led led by Massachusetts and Connecticut, that have been willing to invest more money over time to foster the reality of what it means to leave no children behind. And they have been among the nation’s leaders in promoting a living wage as their goal in public employment. The money they have invested in their future is known more popularly as taxes; these so-called liberal people see that money is their investment to help insure a compassionate, humane society. Family values are much more likely to be found in the states mistakenly called out-of-the-mainstream liberal. By their behavior you can know them as the true conservatives. They are showing how to conserve family life through the way they live their family values.

Oh yes, Massachusetts and Connecticut leave no children behind — except the 27.1% and 26.2% that they respectively left behind in abortion clinics in 2000. Rhode Island outdid them both, at 30.9%.
As for “conserving family life,” one wonders what that might mean to the 42.4% (MA) and 43.2% (RI) of households with members over 65 that are actually households of one — older folks living by themselves. For context, the average for the Southern states that D’Antonio lists in the following paragraph is 38.8% of households, and for the Northeast, 41.3%:

The Associated Press, using data supplied by the US Census Bureau, found that the highest divorce rates are to be found in the Bible Belt. The AP report stated that “the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people.” The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Those are odd states to group for D’Antonio’s purposes. New Hampshire’s 2001 divorce rate (PDF) was only lower than those of four of the ten Southern states, and Oklahoma and South Carolina would only be average among the Northeastern states. Nonetheless, he is correct to note that Massachusetts had the lowest number of divorces per 1,000 inhabitants in 2001, at 2.4. Leaving out the flukish Nevada, Arkansas was at the other end, with 6.6 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants.
Of course, that year, Arkansas also had one of the highest marriage rates, at 14.8, compared with Massachusetts’ 6.4, which was the sixth lowest. That means that Arkansas gained 8.2 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants, while Massachusetts gained only 4.0. (For Rhode Island, the calculation is 8.6 marriages minus 3.3 divorces equals a 5.3 gain.) Little wonder that the 2000 Census found that 54.3% of Arkansas’s households were married-couple families, while only 49% of Massachusetts’ and 48.2% of Rhode Island’s were.
Michael Triplett, who (via Marriage Debate Blog) led me to D’Antonio’s editorial, concludes that “liberalism, tolerance, and permissiveness [don’t] appear to lead to high divorce rates.” I’d suggest that D’Antonio’s bout of what Tom Sylvester calls “increasingly trite, self-congratulatory” analysis doesn’t quite justify declaration of those three qualities’ success.
In 1990, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut topped the list of states when viewed according to Catholics’ proportion of the population (63.1%, 49.2%, and 41.8%, respectively). Not surprisingly, I’m willing to agree with D’Antonio that New England Catholics represent a net plus for “family values” statistics. (Stanley Kurtz also highlights the Roman Catholic factor in Massachusetts.) That being the case, one wonders what New England’s numbers might look like if church-going religious citizens were removed from the tally, leaving secular liberals without recourse to their good behavior when the notion of values becomes politically important.

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