No, conservatives’ higher birth rates don’t matter

Jessica and her commenters, including myself, snark at one Arthur Brooks, who has just published a bogus piece of research saying that Republicans win elections because they have more babies than Democrats. ABC describes it:

“The political right is having a lot more kids than the political left,” Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks says. “The gap is actually 41 percent.”

Studying numbers from the General Social Survey — a government survey of social trends — Brooks found that 100 unrelated liberal adults have 147 children, while 100 unrelated conservatives have 208 kids.

That makes a difference, Brooks says, because “80 percent of people that express a political party preference are voting like their folks.”

I don’t doubt Brooks’ numbers. But inferring from them that Republicans have any advantage reminds me of the second part of the name of the blog Good Math, Bad Math. That 80% of people vote like their parents doesn’t matter without knowing the figure’s party breakdown, as well as the parties’ changing positions. Maybe both parties become more liberal over time (which on some issues they are). Maybe 95% of Democrats raise Democratic children but only 65% of Republicans raise Republican children.

After all, poor people always have more children than rich people, and yet the population isn’t getting poorer. Just like upward income mobility and economic growth keep society’s standard of living afloat, so can similar factors keep society’s level of liberalism afloat.

It’s a known fact that on issues of pluralism, such as racial equality, immigration, and gay rights, younger Americans are invariably more liberal than older ones; the same applies to evolution/creationism. One issues of government power such as domestic spying and Guantanamo, Boomers are more conservative than pre-Boomers, but Xers are more liberal than Boomers and Millennials are more liberal than Xers.

So regardless of what social factors make American 24-year-olds today more liberal than American 24-year-olds were in 1975, ignoring them and pointing to a bogus fertility gap is junk social science.

5 Responses to No, conservatives’ higher birth rates don’t matter

  1. Stentor says:

    The point about the parties’ shifting platforms is important. If your parents vote for Rick Santorum and you vote for Lincoln Chaffee, you’ve both voted for Republicans, but your Republicans stand for different things.

  2. RickD says:

    The irony is that 150 years ago, the birth rates were much higher for poor immigrants and blacks, and the wealthy whites (read Republican) were worried that this discrepancy would imply that they would be a permanent minority.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    They still worry about it, only now instead of hating the Irish, they hate Hispanics. The bitching about liberals’ lower birth rates is a moment of schadenfreude, or, if you will, a distressed group enjoying the fact that another group seems to be doing even worse. They do that a lot – lower middle class whites love harping on blacks and people on welfare.

  4. inaeth says:

    In this case, the maxim of “Correlation does not prove Verification” of the premis is true. Too many variables are undefined, not researched, and flat out ignored.

  5. jess says:

    nice blog!


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