In "Red Families v. Blue Families," we pointed out the irony that blue states, despite their relatively progressive politics, have lower divorce and teen birth rates than do red states.
In fact, the college-educated middle class, partly by postponing having children, has managed to better embody the traditional ideal: that is, a greater percentage of children being raised in two-parent families.
In response, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat admitted that "it isn't just contraception that delays childbearing in liberal states, it's also a matter of how plausible an option abortion seems, both morally and practically ..." Although he conceded that "the 'red family' model can look dysfunctional -- an uneasy mix of rigor and permissiveness, whose ideals don't always match up with the facts of contemporary life," he argued that "it reflects something else as well: an attempt, however compromised, to navigate post-sexual revolution America without relying on abortion."
He's right. The big secret very few are willing to discuss is that abortion rates do seem to correlate with greater commitment to marriage.
Although the college-educated have a relatively low number of abortions, a higher percentage of their unplanned pregnancies end in abortion than for any other group. The college-educated almost certainly think of themselves as embracing the pill and resorting to abortion only in the relatively rare cases where contraception fails.
Yet the bottom line is that the willingness to abort, however infrequently it occurs, makes it possible to reinforce the norm against having a child outside of marriage.
Sociologist Averil Clarke points out that unmarried white college grads, who have maintained a 2 percent nonmarital birth rate for the last 20 years, terminate a higher percentage of pregnancies than do other groups. And urban theorist Richard Florida finds that the higher a state's abortion rate, the lower its divorce rate.
This creates the dilemma Douthat identified for those who see abortion as immoral. The Christian right preaches that contraception is not perfect, that sex inevitably risks pregnancy and that abstinence provides the only solution. And indeed, as the number of abortions has dropped, the rate of unmarried women giving birth has increased. Nonelite young women often give their opposition to abortion as an explanation for why they went ahead and had the child, even if in other ways religion has not influenced them much.