February 10, 2008

Affordability of Family Formation

The February 11 issue of The American Conservative, the one with John McCain and his crypto-slogan "Invade the World / Invite the World" on the cover, features my long article "Value Voters," which sums up my theory of how the affordability of family formation drives the Red State -Blue State divide. I've published it in bits and pieces over the years in AmCon, VDARE, and my blog, but I finally had the space to lay it out fully. It's not online.

Here's the opening:

No matter who wins the 2008 presidential election, pundits will afterwards hypothesize feverishly about why the country is so divided into vast inland expanses of Red (Republican) regions versus thin coastal strips of Blue (Democratic) metropolises. Yet, judging from 2000 and 2004, few will stumble upon the engine driving this partisan pattern, even though the statistical correlations are among the highest in the history of the social sciences.

The Republicans lost the popular vote in 2000 while advocating a "humble" foreign policy, and won in 2004 while defending a foreign policy that Napoleon might have found bombastic. Yet, all that happened from 2000 to 2004 was that virtually every part of the country moved a few points toward the Republicans. The relative stability of this Red-Blue geographic split suggests that more fundamental forces are at work than just the transient issues of the day.

Neither Jane Austen nor Benjamin Franklin, however, would have found the question of what drives the Red-Blue divide so baffling. Unlike today's intellectuals, they both thought intensely about the web tying together wealth, property, marriage, and children. Thus, they probably would not have been surprised that a state's voting proclivities are now dominated by the relative presence or absence of what I call "affordable family formation."

First-time readers of Pride and Prejudice frequently remark that Austen's romance novels are, by American standards, not terribly romantic. She possessed a hard-headed understanding of how in traditional English society, wedlock was a luxury that some would never be able to afford, an assumption that often shocks us in our more sentimental 21st century.

Economic historian Gregory Clark's recent book, A Farewell to Alms, quantified the Malthusian reality under the social structure acerbically depicted in Austen's books. The English in the 1200-1800 era imposed upon themselves the sexual self-restraint that pioneering economist Thomas Malthus famously (but belatedly) suggested they follow in 1798. By practicing population control, the English largely avoided the cycles of rapid growth followed by cataclysmic famines that plagued China, where women married universally and young. The English postponed marriage and children until a man and woman could afford the accouterments suitable for a respectable married couple of their class.

In the six centuries up through Austen's lifetime, Clark found, English women didn't marry on average until age 24 to 26, with poor women often having to wait until their 30s to wed. And 10 to 20 percent never married. Judging from the high fertility of married couples, contraceptive practices appear to have been almost unknown in England in this time, yet, merely three or four percent of all births were illegitimate, demonstrating that rigid pre-marital self-discipline was the norm.

Remarkably, a half century before Malthus's gloomy and Austen's witty reflections on life and love in crowded England, Ben Franklin had pointed out that in his lightly populated America, the human condition was more relaxed and happy. In his insightful 1751 essay, Observations concerning The Increase of Mankind, Franklin spelled out, with an 18th Century surfeit of capitalization, the first, nonpartisan half of the theory of affordable family formation:

"For People increase in Proportion to the Number of Marriages, and that is greater in Proportion to the Ease and Convenience of supporting a Family. When Families can be easily supported, more Persons marry, and earlier in Life."

He outlined the virtuous cycle connecting the Colonies' limited population, low land prices, high wages, early marriage, and abundant children:

"Europe is generally full settled with Husbandmen, Manufacturers, &c. and therefore cannot now much increase in People… Land being thus plenty in America, and so cheap as that a labouring Man, that understands Husbandry, can in a short Time save Money enough to purchase a Piece of new Land sufficient for a Plantation, whereon he may subsist a Family; such are not afraid to marry …"

Franklin concluded: "Hence Marriages in America are more general, and more generally early, than in Europe."

The Industrial Revolution broke the tyranny of the Malthusian Trap over food, but the supply of and demand for land never ceased to influence decisions to marry and have children. As America's coastal regions filled up, affordability of family formation began to differ sharply from state to state (disparities partially masked over the last few years by subprime mortgages and other financial gambits). CNN reported in 2006:

"More than 90 percent of homes in [Indianapolis] were affordable to families earning the median income for the area of about $65,100. In Los Angeles, the least affordable big metro area, only 1.9 percent of the homes sold were within the reach of families earning a median income for the city of $56,200."

When I lived in the Midwest, from age 24 to 34 I attended numerous weddings, but as my social circle matured, the invitations naturally dried up. Yet, when I moved back to my native, but now much more expensive, Los Angeles in 2000, I suddenly started being invited to weddings again. Like male characters in a Jane Austen novel, four of my seven closest friends from my high school class of 1976 got married and bought houses for the first time in their early forties.

Similarly, the cost of childrearing varies more across the country than ever before. A study of Census data by the New York Times found that "Manhattan’s 35,000 or so white non-Hispanic toddlers are being raised by parents whose median income was $284,208 a year in 2005."

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


tanabear said...

Hello Steve. I was the one who sent you the Benjamin Franklin quote on affordable family formation. I found a letter by British historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay, that seems similar to the topic at hand. It it is in the Conservative Reader edited by Russell Kirk, but I haven't found the entire letter on-line. I did find an excerpt:

"I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must sooner or later destroy liberty or civilization, or both. You may think that your country enjoys an exemption from these evils. I will frankly own to you that I am of a very different opinion. Your fate I believe to be settled, though it is deferred by a physical cause. As long as you have a boundless extent of fertile and unoccupied land, your laboring population will be far more at ease than is the laboring population of the old world, and while that is the case the Jefferson politics may continue to exist without any fatal calamity. But the time will come when wages will be as low and will fluctuate as much with you as with us. You will have your Manchesters and your Birminghams, and in these Manchesters and Birminghams hundreds of thousands of artisans will assuredly be out of work. Then your institutions will be brought to the test. Distress everywhere makes the laborer mutinous and discontented, and incline him to listen to agitators who tell him that it is a monstrous iniquity that one man should have a million while another cannot get a full meal.

"I have seen England pass through three or four such critical seasons as I have described; through such seasons the United States will have to pass in the course of the next century, if not of this. How will you pass through them? I heartily wish you a good deliverance. But my reason and my wishes are at war, and 1 cannot help forboding the worst.

"The day will come when in the State of New York, a multitude of people, none of whom has had more than half a breakfast or expects to have more than half a dinner, will choose a legislature. On one side is a statesman teaching patience, respect for the vested rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue, ranting at the tyranny of capitalists and usurists, and asking why anybody should be permitted to drink champagne and ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessities. Which of these candidates is likely to be preferred by a working-man who hears his children cry for bread?

"I seriously apprehend that you will, in some such season of adversity as I have described, do things which will prevent prosperity from returning. There will be, I fear, spoliation. The spoliation will increase the distress. The distress will produce fresh spoliation. There is nothing to stop you. Your constitution is all sail and no anchor.

"As I said before, when society has entered on this downward progress, either civilisation or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, and your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid to waste by the barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth, with the difference that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged the Roman empire came from without; and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions."
Thomas Babington Macaulay to Henry S. Randall

Anonymous said...

It will be on line in a week or so.

Anonymous said...

Different ethnic groups (races?) seem to have very different thresholds of affordability. For example, AFAIK Hispanic (mestizo) fertility in the L.A. area is high despite practically none of them being able to afford a house by white standards. Many blacks also have high fertility despite not being able to afford to live in homes.

Determining whether one "can afford" a family by the ability to have a separate home seems to be very maladaptive, in Darwinian fertility terms, in our modern urban and coastal suburban settings, but it's a maladaption most whites seem to share. At the very least, young people of European descent who hope to have a family some day should avoid urban and coastal surburban areas, even though they seem to have much higher paying jobs. The high pay is deceptive. If you can't afford to buy a house there, don't move there, period. Don't think you will be able to afford a house in the future -- the housing prices may well outrace your hoped-for raises.

For white engineers like me this is a hard call. Engineering jobs outside of these deep blue areas seem to be very rare. High-tech companies tend to get rich and attract immigrants of other ethnicities and races who happily raise families in apartments. You will not be able to find a white woman who shares this preference.

This may be a big hidden reason not many young whites are studying engineering these days, despite the traditional importance of engineering to European culture.

"Give me wide open spaces" -- the Dixie Chicks

Anonymous said...

Steve, are you a Jane Austen devotee or, like me, do you rely on the TV/film adaptations?

Watch out for the PBS Masterpiece Theater shows, however, because they've been scandalously cut for commercial purposes, i.e., to fit in the adverts.

Anonymous said...

My $0.02 is that you neglect other factors on affordable family formation and it's effects on politics. It's not just housing costs but also wages. Globalization pushes wages in ALL areas to the bottom just as much as illegal immigration does. Often on the middle class more than the working class. There is a limited supply of Mexican labor qualified to be plumbers locally, after all, but a nearly unlimited supply of global doctors, lawyers, engineers, many of whom can do remote work. X-ray diagnostics, legal research and even car design are being farmed out to China, India, even Vietnam. At a tenth of the cost of US or Japanese engineers and other white collar labor. The internet makes globalization possible. And hurts US affordable family formation.

Then there is the flip side of globalization, threats from outside. Big oceans, aircraft carrier groups, and so on are as irrelevant as WWII battleships in a world where nuclear proliferation allows Pakistan or Iran the ability to destroy American cities. Or potentially many other nations from Algeria to Yemen. They're all racing for nukes.

This is why McCain still has an advantage in family voting over Obama. Families seek stability/security from outside threats and McCain/Republicans offer a "harder" policy than Dem softness and appeasement. Even if your family is not vaporized, economic chaos from say NYC going up in a blaze means likely a nation wide chaotic depression and potentially, loss of the family though 1930's style hard times.

Both parties are absent on the wage pressure downward (which hurts even in the cheap Midwest). Dems are completely absent on the global nuclear threat but Republicans barely responsive which explains their bare victory in 2004.

Anonymous said...

Affordable Family Formation
1) Globalization
2) Wage Pressures
3) Nuclear Proliferation
4a) Pakistan, Iran, Algeria, Yemen destroying American cities
4b) GOP “hard” policy > DEM “appeasement”
5) NYC nuked
6) Economic chaos and 1930’s depression
7) McCain advantage in Family voting

That’s a familiar line of reasoning from Evil Neocon’s playbook. Start with any proposition, no matter how unrelated, and bring it around to not so subtly supporting the official neocon Invade the World, Invite the World and Bankrupt America policies.

Anonymous said...

tanabear I like your post. My guess is that whichever party offers more affordable family formation will win and win big.

So far from both Hillary and Obama I don't see much. Demagoguery like Macauley says but nothing for tax cuts, killing outsourcing, H1B visas, etc. I have not seen anything either from McCain on that and don't expect it.

Truthseeker is quite right. White males are fleeing engineering for just that reason, as well as womens disdain for engineers in general (they are considered anti-sexy).

Blacks and Latinos though get stuck in poverty. They have kids, but put no resources into them and the pattern is repeated the next generation.

Anonymous said...

The only way to making housing affordable in blue state coastal areas is zoning reform.

Per Ed Glaeser's study, zoning regulations add less than $3000 to the cost of a single family home in Kansas City but more than $300,000 to the cost of a Los Angeles home.

Of course, the politicians will never touch this. if LA's implicit zoning tax was reduced to Kansas City or even Tampa ($59,000) levels, it would be instantly vaporize hundreds of thousands of dollars of value for every single existing home in Los Angeles.

While there are certainly more renters than owners in LA and most other coastal cities, the homeowners are the ones that vote and donate to campaigns.

Steve Sailer said...

Of course, if you allowed developers to build apartment buildings on every side street in LA, you'd also have to double deck all the freeways to accommodate all the extra traffic. And that means you'd pretty much have to close the freeways while you were building over them. So that's not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

What happened to Long Winded Paranoid Neocon?

Back on meds? Ashamed for babbling about how someones (accurate) predictions paled in comparrison to the Morrocan Speedboat Invasion?

Anonymous said...

I will subscribe just to read that. I've loved that finding, or found it to be one of the most insightful findings in years. I also read your story about McCain and Obama over at VDare. I wonder why you give McCain a small chance that he will not be the nominee (it's cruel to raise our hopes!).

I have an anecdotal story that's somewhat related to AFF. I supported Romney based on overt things said as well as signals sent that he was the most patriarchal candidate: the candidate of middle-class families (If we could have combined the strengths of Huck and Romney on these issues into one person...) Anyways, we are expecting number five, with my husband having to live near a large city as he's tech/manager and by this time have learned that we are very much at the mercy of whatever comes down the pike.

My father on the other hand is retired from his own corporation and is, at 65, enjoying his most prosperous years. Crime is not a factor in his wealthy rural area and he's never worried about a job or wages (or a mortgage). He's never been the victim of crime: violent or otherwise. His kids are grown. For him, who wins or loses matters not a whit and he can afford to cast a vote on personality and whether he just plain likes the guy. He is the extreme of the Old Man vote here in Florida that came out strongly for McCain. McCain the fighter, the hero! Also, with his privileged life and personality, he doesn't like to think bad things will happen to him and his.

When talking to my brother about this, it occurred to me that I could not think of any instance of McCain uttering the word, "family" or discussing anything remotely close. He brought up his pro-life stance during a speech recently and spent about two sentences on it whereupon he pivoted to the war. It produced a number of "That's our McCain!" stories as his media acolytes laughed a little over his being uncomfortable discussing morality.

Anonymous said...

"Rob said...

What happened to Long Winded Paranoid Neocon?

Back on meds? Ashamed for babbling about how someones (accurate) predictions paled in comparrison to the Morrocan Speedboat Invasion?"

I believe the answer to your question lies in a previous post:

"Anonymous said...

Then there is the flip side of globalization, threats from outside. Big oceans, aircraft carrier groups, and so on are as irrelevant as WWII battleships in a world where nuclear proliferation allows Pakistan or Iran the ability to destroy American cities. Or potentially many other nations from Algeria to Yemen. They're all racing for nukes."

Evil Neocon is alive and well, and posting as one of many "Anonymous". Perhaps he grew tired of studying his speedboat silhouette identification flashcards in preparation for the great islamic invasion and sailing regatta of 2008, and so has returned to enlighten us with his inciteful analysis of defence intelligence (or as he might put it inc. anal. def. intel.).

Anonymous said...

Anon -- you can't "invade the world" and the US is not "invading" any more than China is which has a military presence in lots of places in Africa. Such as the Sudan. Or the French in W. Africa. Or Russia in Chechnya. Or India in Ceylon.

No one is suggesting it and it's childish to use that phrase. Time to grow up.

People want protection from a nuclear truck bomb and no one has suggested any solution. Invading every proliferating nation is a non-starter. Other than NATO generals suggesting pre-emptive nuking of proliferators. Shrug it might work. Or you can rely on the good will of Iran's mullahs and Colonels, Pakistan's Colonels, and so on. I'd like something in between but that's just me.

You want a world without military expenditure, periodic smacking of enemies, or blood, death, and costly wars. I want to date a supermodel. We're both bound to be disappointed. Human nature being what it is.
Lost in Steve's argument is why people don't move to where land is cheaper. And the radical changes in California.

California even with limited housing was more affordable for the white middle class until Bush 1 / Clinton's defense cuts which destroyed the Aerospace industry in Southern California. Gone were the Hughes, Lockheed, and other defense giants plants and legions of engineers and well paid blue collar workers who lived in Torrance and Lawndale. THEY mostly moved to places like AZ, Utah, and so on. Starting new and lower paid careers, and swapping CA from a reliable Republican voting presidential state to Democratic.

Why aren't others moving if they want a family? Maybe they see not many possible mates in the cheaper interior. Women in particular exit the interior for the coasts.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Steve does mention these things in his article about the San Fernando Valley's secession from Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

Or the French in W. Africa. Or Russia in Chechnya. Or India in Ceylon."

EN: Chechnya is in Russia's back yard, and Ceylon in India's. These are areas that, for better or worse, may be considered in their sphere of influence.

As to France in West Africa, they are only there clinging to some shred of their former colonial glory. What earthly good does Africa do for France, or France, Africa for that matter?

You have never addressed my "arg.", as you might say, about how to defend this country. By not letting in muslims in general, and arabs in particular, and by encouraging the outflow of both. What say you to that, EN?

And how is it that you expect that we can get involved in Africa without unleashing streams of refugees from that beknighted hell-hole to these shores. Why would THAT involvement be any different than every other in that regard?

We have listened to the councils of those who think like you do for nearly nearly twenty years ago. It was our involvement in Saudi Arabia (in the form of permanent bases there set up in the 80's, and staffed by Americans since the 90's) that primarily torqued Osama bin Laden out of shape in the first place.

I don't believe in knuckling under to those who attack us. Neither do I believe in going out looking for trouble.

EN, your analysis is weak, and your advice is worse than worthless. Just go away.

Anonymous said...

For the record, I think you guys are completely off the mark on the causation here.

Expensive housing is merely an attribute of the kinds of lives which are led by the people who choose Death over Life.

With housing prices, you can track fertility, but it's nothing more than a correlation.

Anonymous said...


You might be right. That anon didn't have the same with of psychosis, and his comment was short.

I think racial differences in what constitutes affordable family circumstances would be a really interesting project.

I recall reading in the NYT that black women think stability and a house should come before marriage. Sadly, they don't feel the same way about children.

Is there an evo explanation? Having kids in ag age Europe required more capital and more stable circumstances than in Africa.

Maybe it also explains why non-African populations were unable to maintain population size under chattel-slavery like conditions.

Anonymous said...

Rosamund: When talking to my brother about this, it occurred to me that I could not think of any instance of McCain uttering the word, "family" or discussing anything remotely close. He brought up his pro-life stance during a speech recently and spent about two sentences on it whereupon he pivoted to the war. It produced a number of "That's our McCain!" stories as his media acolytes laughed a little over his being uncomfortable discussing morality.

The dirty little secret is that Death is very strong in the GOP, as well.

Rush Limbaugh has never had children, and claims to hate them [although I'm holding out hope - his new girlfriend is only 31].

Ann Coulter was born on December 8, 1961 - she just turned 46 - and Laura Ingraham was born on January 1, 1963 - she just turned 45, so they're both saddled with barren wombs, and their lines will end with them.

Sean Hannity is a pro-life Catholic & a gazillionaire, yet he's had only two children.

I could go on and on and on; here's a little TFR [total fertility rate] calculation for recent GOP bigwigs:

Ronald Reagan
Jane Wyman: 1 natural child [Maureen], 1 adopted child [Michael]
Nancy Davis: 2 children
(3 natural children) ÷ (2 women) = 1.5 TFR

Rudy Giuliani
Regina Peruggi: 0 children
Donna Hanover: 2 children
Judith Nathan: 1 child adopted in her second marriage
(2 natural children) ÷ (3 women) = 0.667 TFR

Bob Dole
Phyllis Holden: 1 child
Elizabeth Hanford: 0 children
(1 child) ÷ (2 women) = 0.5 TFR

To the best of my knowledge, unless Ron Reagan divorces his wife [or has an affair], then Ronald Reagan's bloodline will soon disappear from the earth: Maureen died without natural children, and Patti Davis is now too old to make children [as is Ron Reagan's wife, Doria Palmieri, who is actually 7 years older than he].

Furthermore, I can't find any evidence that Bob Dole's daughter, Robin Dole, ever made any children herself, so, as far as I can tell, the Dole bloodline is about to end, as well.

PS: McCain's numbers are a little difficult to compute, because his first wife already had two children when he married her. If you include them [but exclude the adopted daughter in the second marriage], then McCain comes out looking okay:

John McCain
Carol Shepp: 3 natural children [2 by previous marriage, 1 by McCain]
Cindy Lou Hensley: 3 natural children, 1 adopted child
(6 natural children) ÷ (2 women) = 3.0 TFR

On the other hand, if you throw out the two children by the previous marriage [and the adopted daughter in the second marriage], then you've got

Carol Shepp: 1 natural child
Cindy Lou Hensley: 3 natural children
(4 natural children) ÷ (2 women) = 2.0 TFR

which is back down below replacement level [2.10 is generally understood to be what is necessary to keep the population steady].

Anonymous said...

People want protection from a nuclear truck bomb and no one has suggested any solution.

A very simple solution has been pointed out many times: keep people who are not "us" from living among us.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's really quite a prescient letter, tanabear.

Anonymous said...

EN and ben:

I think EN is right that terrorism with improved weapons and technology is a big threat. Whether that's a terrorist nuke or just good enough instructions on how to build an IED to minimize the rate of jihadi own goals, it's something we need to come to terms with.

And yet, the initial response of invading Iraq simply didn't do *anything* to address that problem. It seems likely to have made it worse, since we will now have a hell of a time not leaving behind a failed state.

Most of the security theater we see in response to the terrorist threat similarly doesn't seem likely to work. It is effective at making people feel safer, but not at blocking the attacks.

The stuff we probably can manage to do to prevent these attacks has all kinds of nasty costs and side-effects. Letting the government snatch US citizens off US soil and beat answers out of them probably *is* useful in preventing terrorist attacks, but it doesn't take much imagination to figure out how it might go wrong for us. Massive wiretapping, using satellite and UAV recon inside the US, and all kinds of similar stuff amounts to building a turnkey police state and hoping the next person in office doesn't decide to turn the damned key.

I wish more people were thinking deeply about this. I don't see anything from either party that suggests anyone has good answers. (I don't either, for what it's worth, outside of Ben's commonsense suggestion to just not grant a lot of visas to Muslims.)

Anonymous said...

none of the above: And yet, the initial response of invading Iraq simply didn't do *anything* to address that problem.

If nothing else, it forced Al Qaeda to throw 100% of their assets at Iraq, instead of, say, at the continental USA.

Anonymous said...


Since March 2003, there have been a whole bunch of terrorist attacks outside Iraq that have either succeeded or been narrowly thwarted. Check out the Wikipedia entry on acts of terrorism. (Though I wonder whether lone Muslims crashing SUVs into crowds is terrorism, or just really bad driving. Plenty of other drunken fools manage the same trick.)

Specifically, there have been consistent attacks (some successful, some not) in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Indonesia, including some seriously bloody ones, which were alleged to be linked to Al Qaida. The 3/11 bombings in Spain happened in 2004, along with more bombings in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Phillipines. In 2005, there were the London subway bombings, more attacks in Indonesia, and an attack in Jordan. In 2006 there were thwarted attacks (allegedly by Al Qaida, I think) in Germany and the UK. In 2007 there were bombings in Casablanca, Bangladesh, and the UK, as well as another thwarted attempt in Germany.

I believe all of those were alleged to be linked to AQ, but this is the result of about ten minutes' research to refresh my memory. AQ appears to have managed to carry out attacks despite our invasion of Iraq, though I'm not sure how many of those attacks were by people inspired by AQ who claimed the name, or were on governments who wanted US aid and found that beating the perps into confessing to be AQ would bring in the cash.

There have also been several claimed thwarted attacks in the US. I have no idea how serious these were; some of the claimed terrorist threats I've heard of sounded pretty far-fetched. And for all any of us know, there've been close calls that weren't reported for fear of causing panic. (Imagine we'd caught someone planting a nuke with a radio trigger in Manhattan. Would it be wise to put that on the news?)

In any event, the invasion did not do what you said, or any of what its backers (other than Chalabi) hoped. And I don't see any evidence that it made us any safer. When we (almost certainly) pull out, what will prevent anti-US terrorists taking shelter in the failed state/intermittent civil war we leave behind?