Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Fall 2010


In their thought-provoking book, Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, Naomi Cahn and June Carbone examine conflicting views on family formation in the "culture war." Mirroring the electoral maps of 2004 and 2008, the authors contend that regional differences between Republican and Democrat voters correspond to deeply held beliefs about family values. The "blue" family paradigm is essentially liberal: It stresses individual equality, tolerance of diverse lifestyles, and a role for government in helping people achieve educational and economic success. "Red" families are conservative. They value tradition, as expressed in religious beliefs or longstanding cultural mores, and they expect the state to respect these values. But, as Cahn and Carbone show, differences of ideology do not account for the divergent choices that red and blue families make. Neither red nor blue families practice what they preach. Blue families may "bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage, or the stigmatization of single parents," but they raise children in committed, long-term relationships after delaying marriage. Red families disavow premarital sex and proclaim the merits of marriage, but have higher rates of teenage pregnancy and divorce, as well as lower marriage rates.

In three parts, Cahn and Carbone capture the entrenched divisions between red and blue families and explain how opposing opinions and practices around family formation inform debates over abortion, same-sex marriage, and abstinence-only education. Supported by rich historical, sociological, and cognitive research, they analyze how the views of communities where many marry young, have children as teenagers or young adults, and divorce early, differ from those in which people postpone childbirth and marriage. Cahn and Carbone propose changing the subjects of policy from sex to commitment, from abortion to contraception, and from family to work can help forge common ground between red and blue families.

Red Families v. Blue Families is intensely concerned with the well being of all families, which seems to be the best justification for finding common ground.