March 15, 2011

My Affordable Family Formation theory tested

The roots of my theory of Affordable Family Formation influencing which states are blue and which are red in elections goes back to before the 2000 election, but it emerged in mature form in the weeks and months following the 2004 election. (Here's my 12/20/2004 American Conservative article Baby Gap and my subsequent 12/12/2004 VDARE article extending the correlation from fertility to years married. Here's a brief summary in 2005, and a fuller treatment in 2008.

Among academics, Andrew Gelman of Columbia has shown some kind interest in my theory. Now a Poli Sci Ph.D. candidate at the U. of Houston has tested my theory and published a paper on it. While I looked at state level voting for 2000 and 2004, George Hawley looked at county level voting in 2000 and Census data from 2000. This gives him a much larger sample size. The correlations I found at the state level in 2000 and 2004 were just ridiculously high, so looking at a bigger sample size of county data gives a broader perspective.

From Party Politics:
George Hawley
University of Houston


This article tests the hypothesis that differences in the housing market can partially explain why some American counties are strongly Republican and others strongly Democratic, and that this phenomenon can be largely attributed to the relationship between home values and marriage rates within counties. Specifically, I test the hypothesis that, in the 2000 election, George W. Bush did comparatively better in counties with relatively affordable single-family homes, even when controlling for other economic, demographic and regional variables. Using county-level data, I test this hypothesis using spatial-lag regression models, and provide further evidence using individual-level survey data. My results indicate a statistically significant relationship between Bush’s percentage of the vote at the county level and the median value of owner-occupied homes, and that at least part of this is explained by the relationship between home values and marriage rates among young women.

Two important developments in American politics in recent decades involve political sorting. In a process that began in the 1970s, political conservatives and liberals have, for the most part, joined the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively, which, many scholars argue, subsequently led to increasing ideological homogeneity within the parties and higher levels of partisan polarization. The other major sort is geographic in  nature. Many regions of the country have become, to a significant extent, politically homogeneous, with an increasing number of counties consistently giving landslide victories to presidential candidates of one major political party or the other. The first major political sort – which led most individuals to align with the ‘correct’ political party based on their ideological inclinations – has been well examined and explained. The latter political sort has also been well described. However, up to this point, relatively little scholarship has examined the causal mechanism driving the geographic sorting of the population by partisan affiliation. Why do some regions prove a magnet for Democrats, and some draw increasing numbers of Republicans? ...

Specifically, I test the hypothesis that relatively affordable housing was associated with more support for George W. Bush in the 2000 election at the county level. Although the relationship between home-ownership and partisanship has been examined previously (Blum and Kingston, 1984; Verberg, 2000), most such studies consider home-ownership primarily as it relates to economic well-being or incorporation into the community. I offer an alternative hypothesis. I hypothesize that home affordability at the aggregate level is relevant to political outcomes even when controlling for economic variables such as median income and poverty rates. I argue that home affordability is relevant to politics largely because of its relationship with marriage rates within geographic units, which subsequently influences political outcomes because of the partisan marriage gap.

Put less abstractly, I suggest that married couples are more likely than single individuals to want to own their own home. However, there are some areas where home-ownership is prohibitively expensive, especially for younger Americans. If young couples living in those high-housing-cost communities want to own their own house, they have no choice but to move. Thus, I anticipate that the marriage rates within a county can be at least partially explained by the average housing costs within that county. Because, as the political science literature suggests, married voters are more likely to vote Republican than non-married voters, this trend leads some counties to become increasingly Republican, and others increasingly Democratic. ...

The possible relationship between home affordability and aggregate voting trends has largely been ignored up until now by the political science literature, though the topic has been considered by the political journalist Steven Sailer (2008). Sailer hypothesized that ‘affordable family formation’ – which he argued was closely related to housing costs – was a key difference between majority-Republican states and majority-Democrat states. Sailer went on to conclude that the relative affordability of housing accounted for the differing typical political behaviour within various large cities. Sailer suggested that the relative costliness of owning a home in America’s large coastal cities, such as Los Angeles, led to later family formation, which partially explained the greater support for Democratic politicians in those cities and regions. In contrast, inland American cities like Dallas are able to expand outward all-but indefinitely, which keeps housing costs low and subsequently such cities more attractive to young families. ...

This article suggests that the geographical sorting of the United States along partisan lines results, at least in part, from differences in housing markets. Specifically, these results indicate that, in the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush typically received a smaller share of the vote in counties where home values significantly outpaced incomes, and that this was, to a meaningful extent, due to the relationship between home affordability and marriage rates.

Hawley could likely replicate this finding for 2004, an election that was virtually identical to 2000, just shifted a few points in Bush's direction. 2008 was not as similar, however, in part because of different turnout rates brought about by Obama's candidacy. 2010 looked a lot like 2004, although there are methodological problems with dealing with midterm elections.


Nanonymous said...

I am impressed. Impressed by the guy giving you a credit. Highly unusual for academic types. He could have gotten away easily without ever mentioning you.

SFG said...

He dared to cite you by name. Let's hope nothing happens to him.

beowulf said...

In the future, everything Steve writes will be the subject of at least one PhD thesis.

The possible relationship between reactor meltdowns, tidal waves (what earlier generations called "tsunamis"), camping and ambiguous warning sirens has been largely ignored until now by the political science literature, though the topic has been considered by the political journalist Steven Sailer (2011).

wmhde said...

off topic but interesting that our neighbor Mexico derives 4.5% of its electricity from one nuclear plant

i just hope that disparate impact has not left the workforce as homogenous as , say, Apple's or Google's

cherub's revenge said...

There's a swath of extremely affordable real estate along the I-90 corridor from 47th Street all the way to Gary, IN and there's not much of what you'd call a "family" being formed there. And they don't vote Republican.
Now I was in a bar in Lake View tonight full of late 20s and early 30s SWPL women and they seemed more than content to Yasmin their genetic lines into oblivion and drink the weeknights away and not take advantage of this steal of a deal on real estate. Nor do they seem pining for the sprawlingexurbs of flat land around Chicago.
Are you sure you don't want to add some qualifiers to this theory?

Anonymous said...

cherub's revenge said...
Now I was in a bar in Lake View tonight full of late 20s and early 30s SWPL women and they seemed more than content to Yasmin their genetic lines into oblivion and drink the weeknights away..

What bars do you recommend in Chicago to meet these women?

Half Sigma said...

But the cause and effect goes both ways. Republican voters cause Republican local politicians who support less regulation which causes lower housing prices.

Big Bill said...

Congratulations, Steve. You were not listed as a co-author or contributor, for obvious (yet unfortunate) reasons. His tip-of-the-hat is probably the best one could expect, given the precarious position of PhD candidates. He did a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Am I, as a financially successful parent, able to replicate the effects of "Affordable Family Formation?"

My main goal is to see my college age children get married and have children as soon after graduation as possible.

All else being equal, if one of my children moved to Dallas where houses are affordable, that child is likely to get married and have children within a reasonable time frame.

On the other hand, if my other child moves to an expensive area like Manhattan Beach, that child is likely to delay getting married and having children due to the fact that a typical single family house in Manhattan Beach costs $2 million dollars.

Clearly as a parent I would prefer to have children move to low cost areas like Dallas instead of high cost areas like Manhattan Beach.

Assuming I have the financial resources, if I tell my children I will gift them with a four bedroom single family house as soon as they marry a spouse I approve of, have I solved the affordable family formation problem - to what extent can I persuade my offspring in Manhattan Beach to have children at a younger age through this?

Anonymous said...

Keep the following in mind. Independent voters are a very large block of eligible voters. I not quite sure how this would fit into your theory of Affordable Family Formation. My suspicion is that the majority of Independent voters are White Americans. The White Independents who voted for Barack Obama are now known to be fleeing the Democrats. Are these in the Affordable Family category? Probably.

Now I want to connect this with the King hearings on Muslim terrorism. There is no doubt that young White Males are having an increasingly difficlt time in the affordable family formation realm...especially in places such as Peter King's Congressional district. Peter King's Congressional district is being flooded with young Muslim couples looking to start families. Without a doubt, young White American Males in Peter King's Cogressinal District are competing with young Muslim Males for the Affordable Family Formation scarce resources in Congressman Peter King's district. Congressman Peter King voted for the expansion of Islam in America starting in 1993. In 20011, Congressman Peter King continues to vote for the expansion of Islam and the expansion of the nonwhite population in America thereby making Affordable Family Formation for young White American Males increasingly difficult. How much longer will it take for a White. Male revolt against the Republican Party. What would be the big deal if the Republican Party went out of existence? I mean , what is the point of having it around amymore?

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you don't want to add some qualifiers to this theory?

It's a correlation, not a causation.

What Steve is tracking with this "theory" of his are the localized hotspots of SWPL nihilism and the attendant stratospheric real estate prices.

But it's the underlying elitist nihilism which is driving both the high prices and the low birth rates.

Christopher Paul said...

Cherub's right, Steve. You need to adjust your findings to account for cherry-picked anecdotes.

Adam Greenwood said...

Cherub's Revenge,
its not a theory about the price of real estate, its a theory about the difficulty of forming a family, which is largely economic, but can also include things like bullets whizzing by.


What's really interesting about AFF is whether cheap, decent housing merely acts to sort pre-existing political preferences geographically, or whether it actually influences them. In other words, is your average joe more likely to forgo marriage and be Democratic if he grows up in a high-cost area?

-Osvaldo M.

Anonymous said...

"Now I was in a bar in Lake View tonight full of late 20s and early 30s SWPL women "

That's like saying 'I once toured a prison in Japan, and it was full of Japanese prisoners. Shouldn't there be qualifiers to the idea that Japanese people have low crime rates?'

Truth said...

'In the future, everything Steve writes will be the subject of at least one PhD thesis.'

-Whiskey too.

tommy said...

Congratulations. I hope we see more of this kind of work.

Anonymous said...

"-Whiskey too."

Whiskey will be known only as "Patient X".

AMac said...


Counties are much more homogenous than states when it comes to voting patterns -- recall the distinct geographical patterns shown in the county-by-county maps of the last few elections. A sea of red agricultural counties, with islands of purple exurbs adjoining a ring of red suburbs. Centered about purple or blue close-in suburbs and a blue city.

Counties are also more homogenous than states when it comes to single-family homes, obviously.

So I would expect the correlation coefficients found by George Hawley to be much higher than the ones you found, if AFF really packs a punch.

On the other hand, some of yours were already astonishingly high, for a social science study.

How did that work out?

Anonymous said...

"'In the future, everything Steve writes will be the subject of at least one PhD thesis.'

-Whiskey too."

Please don't encourage Whiskey.

JWO said...

Affordable is a very slippery idea, if people lived today like they did in 1960 they would have plenty of money to afford homes and children. In that time we were middle class but we lived in 3 family tenement house with linoleum flooring. I never was taken to restaurant. Many of the kids that lived near me had never left the state of RI! We ate a lot of pasta and we were all skinny because food costs were significant.

Truth said...

" We ate a lot of pasta and we were all skinny because food costs were significant."

That, plus you walked 9 miles to school...uphill both ways.

Anonymous said...

That, plus you walked 9 miles to school...uphill both ways.

And 10 miles to the outhouse.