Liberal elites' secret weapon is conservative family values
by Timothy P. Carney
| January 14, 2020 04:19 PM
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America’s elite — that is, the 30% of adults with at least a college
degree — enjoy one very particular privilege that enhances their life
and nearly guarantees their success. And too many of them refuse to
The privilege isn’t a college education. That merely correlates with
what really matters.
And the greatest privilege isn’t material wealth. That sure makes life easier, but wealth mostly correlates with the real privilege I'm
America’s elite have a secret weapon that steers them and their children
away from drugs, early death, violence, dropping out of high school,
dropping out of the labor force, and so many other modern social ills.
It’s called the traditional family: A married couple raising their
children at home.
As the wealthiest and best-educated Americans steadily tack toward the Democratic Party, this truth butts against some stubborn assumptions
made by both sides.
Liberals in the media are handling the political realignment of the
elites by pointing out that the blue states have better sociological
outcomes than the red states. They assign these good outcomes to the open-mindedness that transcends tradition and old forms of living.
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Conservatives, meanwhile, are apt to assume the liberal elites are a
bunch of decadent swingers, eschewing marriage, embracing free love, and getting abortions for fun. We see Miley Cyrus, Charlie Sheen, and Cardi
B celebrating their vice and debauchery, or we watch the oversexualized
and amoral films produced by Hollywood, and we imagine that this is how
wealthy liberals live in Los Angeles.
This is far from the truth. A new study by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Wang at
the Institute for Family Studies lays out the real picture.
“When it comes to their own families,” the authors discovered, “California elites with kids overwhelmingly ‘live right’ in private, giving their children the benefit of growing up in a two-parent family.”
Wilcox and Wang reveal granular data showing “that some of the most
elite neighborhoods in the state — including several in Hollywood and
San Francisco — have virtually no single parents.”
This is a far bigger story than Hollywood’s message vs. Hollywood’s lifestyle, of course. Across the country, Americans in the upper class
are much more likely to profess liberalized teachings on family and
marriage while personally practicing conservative family values. Wilcox
and Wang just happened to get the data for California.
Among Californians aged 18-50, the college-educated were far more likely
than those with no college degree (85% to 69%) to agree that we should celebrate the diversity of family structures, including single
parenthood, unmarried parents, and other alternative family structures.
The college-educated were specifically far more cheerful toward single motherhood.
That’s how they feel about others. How do the elites feel about their
own lives? “It’s very important for me, personally to be married before having children,” 68% of the college-educated sample agreed. That number
was only 59% for those who never went to college.
So the elites are more "tolerant" than the working class ideologically,
but they are much more conservative about how they plan to live.
It turns out that the question of personal values, unlike the broader ideological question, was a big predictor of personal behavior.
Californians who didn't personally value family and
marriage-before-babies were "less likely to have stable families,”
Wilcox and Wang found.
Here’s the dagger: More laissez faire personal views seemed to have a
greater destabilizing effect on the working class than they did on the
That is, “58% of those who agree with the statement are in intact
marriages, compared with 36% of the parents who do not.”
This slice of the working class is where you see the negative effects of liberal cultural ideology. They buy into what elite culture, including Hollywood, is selling. And they suffer for it.
Working-class people are less likely to get married and more likely to
get divorced if they do. And the gap is growing. Women who don't attend
college are more likely to have babies outside of marriage, and those
babies enjoy less success in life. Children raised by only one parent
have more trouble with violence, alcohol, drugs, and unwed pregnancy themselves. They earn less money and are more likely to be unemployed.
Marriage and two-parent households are crucial to success in life.
Marriage, in fact, is one of the best anti-poverty tools in existence.
Those who personally hold the liberal attitudes preached (but not
practiced) by the elites are more likely to veer from the traditional
family model. And those people, disproportionately in the working class,
are less likely to rise through the ranks.
Cultural liberalism is class warfare waged by the wealthy against the
poor and working class. The privilege of the elite mostly comprises the
norms, the models, and the community that support and guide people
toward marriage and family. And that's one privilege too many elites
would sooner keep to themselves.
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Timothy P. Carney
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