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Is It All about White People with Kids?

An interesting variant on the exurban argument (which I critiqued on Monday and in other posts) is the white families with kids argument. This argument contends that exurbs are busting at the seams with white married households with children who have moved there for more land, bigger houses and a safer, more traditional and (let's face it) less racially diverse environment for their kids. Since these kind of voters naturally tend to favor the Republicans, and since the exurbs are fast-growing, this must give the Republicans a big edge over the demographically stagnant Democrats. This argument popped up recently on The New Republic website in an article "Parent Trap" by Joel Kotkin and William Frey. The same basic argument is developed in more detail by political analyst Steve Sailer in his article "Baby Gap" in The American Conservative.

I have already had much to say about the problems with the fast exurban growth part of this argument. But the white families with children argument has another, deeper problem: white married households with children are not only declining relatively, as a percentage of households, they are also declining absolutely--that is, the number of these households is actually falling over time. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, the number of white married households with children declined by almost 7 percent. This is true even in the NCEC-designated "exurban" counties (or "Republican-leaning suburban counties" [RLSCs] as I prefer to call them} I discussed on Monday: white families with kids declined by 1 percent in RLSCs between 1990 and 2000. And in NCEC-designated rural counties, they decreased by 9 percent.

That makes the whole white families with children argument sound pretty weak. Aren't there any areas where these households are at least growing in absolute terms? Sure there are, but to find them you have to adopt a fairly strict definition of exurbs like the one I've used in the past (fringe counties of large metro areas). If you do that, it turns out that these exurban counties had 11 percent growth in white married households with children in the 1990s. But these exurban counties are also just 4 percent of the population and contain only 6 percent of the nation's white families with children. In other words, the only category of counties that remotely fits the white families with children argument is too small to have the big political impact the argument alleges.

It's also interesting to note how slowly the distribution of these households is changing. Using the NCEC categories, in 1990, 34 percent of white families with children were in "exurban" (or RLSC) counties compared to 35 percent in 2000. In rural counties there was no change (24 percent in both years). In NCEC's "suburban" counties (many of which are not really suburban and are selected so that they tend to lean Democratic), there was a slight increase, from 20 to 21 percent of white families with children over the decade. And in NCEC-designated urban counties, which are typically in only the largest urban areas with the heaviest minority populations, there was only a slight decline over the decade, from 21 to 20 percent of these housholds.

And even using my strict--and more accurate--definition of exurbia, the proportion of white families with children in this category of counties only rose from 5 percent in 1990 to the 6 percent mentioned above.

Thus, not only are the absolute numbers of these families declining almost everywhere, but the distribution of these families across different types of counties is actually changing very slowly--in fact hardly changing at all.

In short, the attempt to construct a dynamic, demographic argument around white people with kids just doesn't hold water. Of course, the basic observation that white people with kids do tend to vote Republican remains true, but the attempt to gussy up this fact with "parent traps" and "baby gaps" should be taken with an entire cellarful of salt.

Comments

I think the white-family-with-kids theory is a bunch of bunk.

Where I live, the community is vastly liberal and filled to the brim with white families with children. Wealthy white families, at that, with nannies and money and stay-home parents (both mothers and fathers).

To us, the Democratic viewpoint prioritizes education, diversity, fairness, civility -- all the things that parents want to teach their children.

Why align with Republicans, who have a penchant for cutting back on education and environment? Who regularly force church and state into one ideology despite the fact it counters the spirit of the Declaration of Independence? Who have a history of shutting out people of color? Whose belief in merit-based or faith-based initiatives comes at the expense of people born into underprivilege who simply need a helping hand and a fair shot?

And probably the most frightening element of today's NeoCon Republican mandate: a willingness to put our children at risk by starting unnecessary wars?

These are not the values we embrace in our homes. Families want a safe, loving future for their children, not division and insecurity.

"People moving" within a state cannot change a Presidential outcome, because the new exurban voters are ex-suburban voters.

If one wished to change a Presidential outcome by getting people to move, one would do it by moving, e.g., Democratic voters out of hopeless red states into marginal states, e.g., from Mississippi to Florida and Ohio.

Also, moving to places with a lot of land and good schools for your children is not a white idea, it is an _American_ idea, and it has the same results good and bad for everyone regardless of race.

The point of Sailer's "Baby Gap" isn't whether one group is growing or not, it's the strength of the correlation. Where else have you seen a correlation of 0.86 (and Sailer has found two more measures with even higher correlations)?