New research by a professor at the University of Virginia suggests Republicans and Democrats may not just differ in their political outlook — Republicans may also have happier marriages.
In recent years, professor W. Bradford Wilcox notes in an article published by the Institute for Family Studies, academics have believed evidence indicates liberals have stronger family values. For instance, the 2010 book “Red Families v. Blue Families” posited that blue states (and by extension, blue families) produced better and more stable families thanks to social mores that emphasized delaying marriage and childbearing while having greater gender parity within relationships.
That narrative, Wilcox suggests, is wrong. Unlike earlier researchers, who have often operated at the state level, Wilcox has researched marriage success at the level of individual families, allowing for much greater specificity. Wilcox broke down data on people aged 20-60 collected by the General Social Survey, a massive survey conducted every other year by the University of Chicago.
In contrast to the idea of more-stable blue families, Wilcox found that among self-identified Democrats, 47 percent who had ever been married had also been divorced, while the figure was 41 percent for self-identified Republicans. Married people are also more likely in general to identify as Republicans than the unmarried, who lean Democratic.
Not only are Republicans less likely to be divorced, but they also are slightly more likely to be happy in their marriages, suggesting it isn’t simple social pressure that’s keeping them hitched. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans characterize their marriage as “very happy,” compared to 60 percent of Democrats.
What explains the gap? A variety of factors, Wilcox says, including the fact that Republicans are older and whiter (whites have happier marriages on average). A critical factor appears to be religious observance. Americans who regularly attend religious services are substantially more likely to report happy marriages, and the advantage is particularly strong for a couple that attends services together. Since Republicans are on average more religious than Democrats, religiosity helps to explain much, though not all, of their advantage. What explains the rest, Wilcox says, can only be speculated at for now.
“Perhaps Republicans are more optimistic, more charitable, or more inclined to look at their marriages through rose-colored glasses. But what we do know is this: Democrats do not enjoy an advantage over Republicans when it comes to the quality of their marriages,” he writes. “Our analysis of family-level data on marriage, divorce, and marital quality provides no support for the theory that blue families are superior to red families in America. Instead, the evidence suggests the contrary.”
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