Event Coverage: What Constitutes Good Family Values?

July 8, 2010

“Families are on the front lines of the culture wars,” begin Naomi Cahn and June Carbone in their new book, Red Families v. Blue FamiliesThe authors were joined by other experts to discuss families and their value systems at an event yesterday sponsored by the Workforce and Family Program here at the New America Foundation. 

In their book, Cahn and Carbone examine how the culture wars have been driven by a conflict between 1950’s-style, “apple pie” values and a more liberal value system that, for instance, is accepting of single mothers and gay and lesbian parents. Red Families v. Blue Families argues that this dichotomy of “red” and “blue” family values has shaped major debates over abortion, sex education, and the American family itself over the past half-century in unexpected ways. 

For example, the authors highlighted phenomena such as the growing correlation between college educations and low divorce rates for women. Though women who attain  four-year degrees are more likely to have careers and less likely to be stay at home moms, they are also less likely to get divorced than women without a college degree. Here, we see a “Blue”-type value (an emphasis on higher education and careers for women) that is achieving the expected “Red family” results (low divorce rates and nuclear families). 

Patrick Fagan, Senior Fellow and Director at the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion, had a different point of view. He noted that, though rates of abortion and contraception use—both acceptable to “Blue families”—have risen during the last 50 years, so have rates of divorce and single parenting: Two choices that make parenting and earning enough income difficult, but are also acceptable in the “Blue” value system. 

Clearly, family structure (and the principles that motivate them) is essential to a child’s well-being. One question that arose during the event was, “Does it benefit a child more to have two working parents, or to have a parent stay at home and the family sacrifice some of its fiscal stability?” 

And, if a child has two working parents—which is happening more often— will parents miss out on critical bonding if they are forced to go back to work too early after children are born? How do we reconcile this with the fact that families with two working parents are far more likely to provide ample income for their children? 

At Early Ed Watch, we see the importance of these debates. They are deeply integrated into policy decisions surrounding home visitation programs and child care tax credits, for example— two policies that have risen in response to the changing structures of American families. Though these debates are controversial, they are also crucial to the way we think about policy for young children. 

Eyal Press, a Schwartz Fellow at New America also presented at the event. David Gray, director of the New America Foundation’s Workforce and Family Program, moderated. You can watch a webcast of the event here.