As the Peacock Struts: are liberals more competent than conservatives?

Very anecdotal observations of the people I know suggests that the conservatives are more likely to be “dysfunctional” than the liberals–ironically, in precisely the ways conservatives claim liberals are dysfunctional in.

The important thing here is to go beyond hand-wavey anecdotes and get actual data. It’s easy to find things like this: Red America vs. Blue America: state maps illustrate the difference, but these maps are significantly confounded by different ethnicities being concentrated in different parts of the country. For example, the high % of people who never graduated from highschool in SW Texas is probably due to Mexican immigrants, and so not germane to the present conversation.

Here is a map assembled by demographers Glass and Levchak demonstrating the correlation between conservative Christianity and divorce:

I really wish this were a graph instead of a map.

Some quotes from the article:

“Their work confirms that one of the strongest factors predicting divorce rates (per 1000 married couples) is the concentration of conservative or evangelical Protestants in that county. …

“Yet even controlling for income and region, divorce rates tend to be especially high in areas where conservative religious groups are prominent. …

“So even though conservative Protestants are much less likely to cohabit, this didn’t make a difference. There was no evidence that cohabiting would have “weeded out” the less promising unions…

“a careful analysis of variations nationally reveals that this explains none of the association between religious conservatism and divorce. …

“Glass and Levchak found that the high divorce rate among conservative religious groups is indeed explained in large part by the earlier ages at first marriage and first birth, and the lower educational attainment and lower incomes of conservative Protestant youth.

“Explains Glass, “Restricting sexual activity to marriage and encouraging large families seem to make young people start families earlier in life, even though that may not be best for the long-term survival of those marriages.” In an earlier report to the Council on Contemporary Families, economist Evelyn Lehrer from University of Illinois at Chicago explained that every year a women postpones marriage, right up until her early 30s, lowers her chance of an eventual divorce.

“But people who live in conservative religious counties have a higher risk of divorce even when they are not affiliated with a conservative religious group.”

The HBD explanation, of course, is that Evangelical Protestantism is concentrated among dumber whites, and people who postpone marriage and childbearing are smarter and more competent at planning their lives. If you squint at the map, you may notice that Evangelical Protestants in the Deep South seem to have lower divorce rates than their religious brethren in Appalachia. (Is a finding of “Appalachians don’t act very smart” even interesting?)

But this is not necessarily an important detail in this particular conversation.

The important thing is that liberal atheists, Unitarians, and the like get divorced less than religious conservatives like Evangelical Christians.

And yet, these same Evangelicals have been protesting mightily against their very own divorces (among other marital novelties,) while blaming the whole business on liberals!

 

I’ve been looking for data on abortions, but can’t find any broken down by conservative vs liberal. Overall, it looks like conservatives get fewer abortions, but state regulations are an obvious confounder.

However, I think we can calculate teen pregnancy rates:

WV, you've got no excuse.

You know, this isn’t looking very good for West Virginia…

Okay, I was totally going to do math for you, but it turns out that someone has been keeping track of this data by race for me, so I’m going with that:

    From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

West Virginia leads, but the rest of the South follows pretty closely.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “what if this is just a side effect of Northerners aborting their unintended pregnancies?”

Never fear, I have another map:

From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
From The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Nope! White Southerners just get pregnant a lot.

It’s probably already obvious, but the folks getting pregnant are also rather promiscuous:

Picture 4

The data ain’t great, but it looks like Southerners are sluts. And New Hampshirites.

My suspicion, based on data I’ve seen elsewhere and will try to dig up later, is that dumber people have higher sex drives and mature faster than smarter people–so dumb people are much more likely to have sex while still in highschool. But even intelligent people from the South seem to have more sex than more liberal folks.

A friend of mine who grew up in one of the more conservative parts of the country, who has always prided themself on being morally upright and derided the permissive immorality of liberals, moved a few years ago to a much more liberal part of the country, and describes everyone there as, “A bunch of prudes.” Yes, the descendants of Puritans are sexually reserved and don’t like to be touched–who’d have thought?

 

So. Conservatives are more promiscuous, have more teen pregnancies, and more divorces.  Even on a subject as trivial as weight, liberals are more likely to be part of the “fat acceptance movement,” but conservatives are more likely to actually be fat. I could go on, with other stats like educational attainment and GDP, but you get the idea: Conservatives walk one walk, but talk another.

This raises a question: If liberals are really better at doing the things conservative claim are moral, then is liberal morality really so “dysfunctional”?

The answer looks like: No.

(Those of you stressing out that gay marriage may be the downfall of civilization, take heart: it’s much more likely that stupid people fucking are going to be the downfall of civilization.)

Which raises the second question: Then why are Conservatives complaining about Liberal morality in the first place?

My theory: They aren’t.

In real life, liberals and conservatives don’t actually interact very often. They are concentrated in different parts of the country, are descended from different ethnic stock, and would rather their children married a non-white than a member of the opposite political party. They have very different personalities, and even when they aren’t talking politics, they get along horribly.

The “Liberal,” as far as the average conservative is concerned, is a boogeyman on TV doing horrible things in far-off places like CA or NYC. The inverse is also true: the “Conservative” is a disembodied talking head on Fox News or rural boogeyman in a place they’ve never been, like Indiana.

When conservatives talk about the sanctity of marriage, what they really mean is, “I screwed up. I did dumb things, and that’s how I got pregnant/divorced/etc. Whatever you do in life, don’t be like me.” But most people don’t like to admit that they’re talking about their own mistakes, so they blame everything they can on some mysterious, unknown “other”: the liberal. The other is, after all, but a foil for the self.

Liberals do the same thing. They blame all sorts of things (black-white test score gaps, incarceration rates, etc.) on the actions of conservatives (conservative and “racist” are pretty much synonymous to liberals,) even when no conservatives are even around. The invisible, insidious, omni-present conservative gets blamed for everything liberal policies can’t fix. (Saboteurs to the gulag!)

But why do liberals support policies they don’t themselves follow?

Two obvious reasons come to mind:

1. Liberals tend to believe that they shouldn’t tell others what to do, so if you want to do something dumb, hey, that’s your business, and…

2. It’s hard to muster a good argument for banning something if you’ve never been personally affected by it. Among the liberals I know, divorce is vanishingly rare, but I know conservatives with 4 or 5 divorces each. Divorce is a real issue for conservatives because it’s a thing they frequently do, just as low blood sugar is an issue for a diabetic. In an environment where lots of people get divorced, it is probably a good social strategy to advertise one’s qualities as a mate by roundly denouncing the practice–you look more serious about staying married. In an environment where few people get divorced, declaring your opposition isn’t so useful. There, the inverse may be true: people can signal that they are such good mates, they’re not even worried about divorce being legal. Like the peacock, they signal strength by flashily showing just how low they can lower their strength without getting eaten.

The only downside, of course, is that sometimes liberals do get eaten by their permissive attitudes toward sex. Like when they get AIDS.

Implications: Should conservatives ditch conservatism and adopt more liberal attitudes?

In general, it probably wouldn’t help. The liberals have their attitudes due to conditions in liberal areas, and conservatives have their attitudes due to conditions in their lives. Further, divorce and promiscuity probably have more to do intelligence than any particular attitudes, and encouraging divorce isn’t going to make people smarter.

If your goal is monogamous, stable, long-term marriages with happy, healthy people in them, you’d be better off focusing on the social policies that make people with these genetic traits breed less than people who don’t.

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10 thoughts on “As the Peacock Struts: are liberals more competent than conservatives?

  1. “Liberals tend to believe that they shouldn’t tell others what to do, so if you want to do something dumb, hey, that’s your business, and…:

    Could have fooled me. I’m from a slut state and all I hear is criticism. We should do this, do that…on and on.

    The North should really show the South whose boss and kick us out of the Union. :)

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  2. Sorry, perhaps should say that they claim to believe it. Liberals have gotten bossy now that they are completely in control. It’s actually really annoying me today; formerly reasonable internet acquaintance won’t shut up about how awful Kim Davis supporters are.

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  3. Most of the statistics in the South are way skewed due to race. Was that something you took into account? Been a long since I looked at these things but when I did the number changed when negroes where removed

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    • Yes indeed; if you look, the teen pregnancy maps only show non-Hispanic whites, and the counties with the highest correlation between divorce and Protestantism are located primarily in Appalachia (predominantly white) rather than the Deep South (much higher black %).

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