Affordable Family Formation

Steve Sailer's summary of his theory of affordable family formation and voting is now online. In short, he argues that where family formation is affordable (i.e., housing prices are low), people will tend to vote Republican. As a public service, I'm going to try to explicate the theory into distinct hypotheses.

H1: In coastal regions housing prices will be higher than in non-coastal regions.

This is the hardest hypothesis to grasp quickly, but if you think about it, it makes sense. In coastal regions, most big cities actually border on the coast. On average, land and housing prices will be lower and lower as you move away from the city centre. When a city is located at the coast, there are less directions to move to, thus you might expect land and housing prices to be higher.

H2: The preference for a bigger house or appartment increases when people form a family.

True, you can raise children in an appartment, but at least in western industrialized nations, people want a seperate room for their children; many also want a garden for their kids to play in.

H3: The more expensive it is for couples to meet their housing desires in the case of family formation, the less likely they are to form a family.

You can only disbelieve this if you think that in matters of Sex 'n' Love 'n' Fertility, rationality goes out of the window. In which case you should be hit over the head with The Collected Works of Gary Becker.

H4: People who have children are more likely to vote for a party that promotes "family values".

H5: People who are married are more likely to vote for a party that promotes "family values".

Not the same thing. It is not quite clear whether Sailer argues H4 and H5 or that only people who are married with children are more likely to vote for a party that promotes "family values". Clarification needed! Anyway, Sailer actually cites evidence showing that married people are more likely to vote Republican, although it is unclear whether this connection is causal (see below).

H6: In the US, the Republican party promotes "family values" more than does the Democratic party.

I guess we don't have to argue about that one.

I am not much of an expert in the sociology of marriage and the family, let alone voting or housing prices, so I am not aware of any evidence that speaks to the veracity of the hypotheses except for that quoted by Sailer.

Sailer calculates three correlations to bolster his claim. Note that while hypotheses 2-5 above are on the individual level, his correlations are on the state level. He correlates Bush's share of the vote in the 2004 presidential elections with a) white women aged 18-44 being married, b) white female lifetime fertility (i.e., how many babies white women have), c) the increase in housing prices.

In each case does he find positive correlations of an impressive magnitude, yet I'm not convinced. Leaving aside the state-level-is-not-individual-level problem, I do not understand the focus on white women, let alone white women aged 18-44. Cherry picking? (Sailer addresses this but doesn't convince me.) Also, as Andrew Gelman noted in his post about the theory, the correlation between marriage and Republican votes may just be caused by a third variable, conservatism. (Conservative people will tend to marry earlier and are more likely to vote Republican.) As I've commented there, a better test would be to correlate housing prices and the Republican vote. Sailer does provide a correlation between Bush's share of the vote and the increase in housing prices, but it seems to me that the theory rather suggests an association with the absolute value of housing prices.

All in all, plausible enough a theory, but it takes more to convince me. If I may coin a new phrase, further research is needed.

Addendum: Steve Sailer comments extensively in the, well, comments section.


Steve Sailer said...

Thanks for the thoughtful exposition.

I would just add that, besides housing costs, perceptions of public school quality play a role as well in family formation decisions. For example, we see higher white fertility per year of marriage in Great Plains / Great Basin states than in the Deep South, which I suspect is related to the greater popularity of private schools in the South.

Steve Sailer said...

As for the correlation of housing costs and voting, it's pretty high too. As I mention in this article:

"According to ACCRA, Bush carried the 20 states that have the cheapest housing costs, while Kerry won the nine states that are most expensive. The states with the lowest-cost housing are Mississippi (where Bush won an extraordinary 85 percent of the white vote), Arkansas (home state of Bill Clinton but now solidly Republican) and the GOP’s anchor state of Texas."

Also, "The cost-of-housing index correlates with “years married” with an r-squared equal to 53 percent. Similarly, the housing inflation rate since 1980 and “years married” correlate at an r-squared equal to 48 percent."

Steve Sailer said...

As for the focus on white women for fertility and marriage, it wasn't an a priori decision -- it happens to work better. So, you can accuse me of cherrypicking, but you can say that about anybody scanning over a lot of data.

For example, take the most important state, California. It has very expensive housing, lots of coastline and mountains and environmental restrictions on development, unpopular public schools, low wages compared to the cost of living. On the other hand, it has average fertility, largely because of the large number of immigrant Latinas who have a total fertility rate of 3.7 babies per lifetime in 2005 versus 1.6 for American-born white women.

Immigration boosts total fertility across all races in California but appears to drive down white total fertility, which is what really counts in a state's voting.

As for the particular age range for "Years Married" -- it's modeled on the Total Fertility Rate statistic which looks at almost the exact same age range. But, yes, it does work slightly better than similar but slightly different age ranges.

So, could all this just be a random fluke? Well, I found the white total fertility relationship to voting right after the 2000 election and published in on UPI, but then when the 2004 election showed almost exactly the same correlation, I dug much deeper into the subject.

Does it go back farther? It depends on how you treat Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. If you add his share of the vote to the GOP candidate's share per state, you can see a steady increase in the strength of affordable family formation from 1988, when it was still fairly strong, up through 2000, and then 2004 being extremely similar to 2000 at a very high plateau.

But if you leave out Perot's votes and just look at GOP votes, you see a dip from 1988 to 92-96 then a huge increase to 2000-2004. I suspect the GOP+Perot model is superior, and it shows the growing importance of affordable family formation to conservative fortunes.

Steve Sailer said...

"the correlation between marriage and Republican votes may just be caused by a third variable, conservatism."

Sure, but the causation no doubt goes in multiple directions. To the extent that innately conservative people want to both vote Republican and get married and have kids my theory explains why they move to some parts of the country and move out of other parts.

And for people people who are more moderate or undecided in their innate feelings toward political and social liberalism versus conservativism, my model predicts that where they live will influence the odds that they go down one path or the other in life.

LemmusLemmus said...


thank you for commenting.

On the cherry picking issue, the ultimate test of a general theory is always whether it can be replicated out of sample. You address this with 1990s data, and it would be interesting to go back even further. One might also look for similar patterns around the world - I guess it's fair to assume that everywhere, conservative parties are the parties of "family values".

lvtfan said...

You might find interesting fodder in Mason Gaffney's piece entitled "The Red and the Blue." It is available at http://www.wealthandwant.com/docs/Gaffney_Red_Blue.html

Written shortly after the 2004 election, it begins,

"Pundits since November have noted an apparent anomaly: lower-income states voted red, and higher-income states voted blue. Within each state, lower-income counties voted red, and higher-income counties voted blue. In California, the inland counties went red, while coastal counties, plump with wealth and income, went blue. Depressed upstate New York went red, while rich New York City went blue.

On purely economic grounds, 'it’s a puzzlement.' Why do poor people support the party of big corporations and the rich?"

another excerpt:
"To understand the politics of New York City or San Francisco we need to begin by noting that they have about the highest residential rents and home prices in the U.S.A., along with the highest tenancy rates. It takes a high monetary income even to be poor in such places, unless you own land. Federal statisticians who publish the Consumer Price Index (CPI) delicately refrain from comparing different cities - they just compare different times, city by city. This helps them finesse tough questions about rents, and housing prices. Common observation, however, and various semi-popular publications, fill the gap. The C.O.L., especially its rent and home value elements, is a lot higher in the big glamorous cities, so real incomes there are a lot lower than they look - unless you own land."

Check it out!