November 26, 2004


The Baby Gap: Explaining Red and Blue: How birthrates color the electoral map (Steve Sailer, December 20, 2004, The American Conservative)

oters are picking their parties based on differing approaches to the most fundamentally important human activity: having babies. The white people in Republican-voting regions consistently have more children than the white people in Democratic-voting regions. The more kids whites have, the more pro-Bush they get.

I'll focus primarily upon Caucasians, who overall voted for Bush 58-41, in part because they are doing most of the arguing over the meaning of the red-blue division. The reasons blacks vote Democratic are obvious, and other racial blocs are smaller. Whites remain the 800-pound gorilla of ethnic electoral groups, accounting for over three out of every four votes.

The single most useful and understandable birthrate measure is the "total fertility rate." This estimates, based on recent births, how many children the average woman currently in her childbearing years will end up with. The federal National Center for Health Statistics reported that in 2002 the average white woman was giving birth at a pace consistent with having 1.83 babies during her lifetime, or 13 percent below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. This below-replacement level has not changed dramatically in three decades.

States, however, differ significantly in white fertility. The most fecund whites are in heavily Mormon Utah, which, not coincidentally, was the only state where Bush received over 70 percent. White women average 2.45 babies in Utah compared to merely 1.11 babies in Washington D.C., where Bush earned but 9 percent. The three New England states where Bush won less than 40 percent -- Massachusetts, Vermont, and Rhode Island -- comprise three of the four states with the lowest white birth rates, with little Rhode Island dipping below 1.5 babies per woman.

Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility (just as he did in 2000), and 25 out of the top 26, with highly unionized Michigan being the one blue exception to the rule.

In sharp contrast, Kerry won the 16 states at the bottom of the list, with the Democrats' anchor states of California (1.65) and New York (1.72) having quite infertile whites.

Among the fifty states plus Washington D.C., white total fertility correlates at a remarkably strong 0.86 level with Bush's percentage of the 2004 vote. (In 2000, the correlation was 0.85). In the social sciences, a correlation of 0.2 is considered "low," 0.4 "medium," and 0.6 "high."

You could predict 74% of the variation in Bush's shares just from knowing each state's white fertility rate. When the average fertility goes up by a tenth of a child, Bush's share normally goes up by 4.5 points.

In a year of predictably partisan books, one lively surprise has been What's the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank, a leftwing journalist from Kansas who now lives with his wife and single child in the Democratic stronghold of Chicago. Frank is puzzled by why conservative Republicans in his homestate are obsessed with cultural issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and teaching evolution in the schools instead of the leftist economic populism that Frank admires in Kansas' past.

While the Christian right in Kansas doesn't much hold with Darwin, they are doing well at the basic Darwinian task of reproducing themselves: pro-life Kansas has the fourth highest white fertility in the country at 2.06 babies per woman, and the birthrate of the conservative Republicans that Frank finds so baffling is likely to be even higher. On the crucial question of whether a group can be bothered not to die out, "What's the Matter with Massachusetts?" would be a more pertinent question. Massachusetts' whites are failing to replace themselves, averaging only 1.6 babies per woman, and the states' liberal Democrats are probably reproducing even less than that.

So, white birthrates and Republican voting are closely correlated, but what causes what? The arrow of causality seems to flow in both directions.

Of course, the one group of fertile whites he doesn't think is becoming more Republican is Latinos. At any rate, one would rather be the political party of the growing not the shrinking demographic, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2004 4:02 PM
The reasons blacks vote Democratic are obvious
Really? If ever there were a case of a group voting against their genuine long-terms interests, the persistence of blacks in voting for the Democrats has to be pretty high on the list. Posted by: at November 26, 2004 4:30 PM

Latinos are more fertile that whites, but the fertility rate is in fact coming down (as well as that of African-Americans). The wealthier a population becomes, then the fertility rate goes in the opposite direction. So the solution is to keep them poor.

Posted by: h-man at November 26, 2004 5:15 PM

It's the same all over:

The correlation between poverty and high fertility rates is most marked in sub-Saharan Africa, where the total fertility rate (TFR, or number of children each woman bears on average) is 5.6 and the gross national income per capita (GNI per capita, adjusted for purchasing power) is US$1,540, the lowest by far of any major region. Conversely, Western Europe has a GNI per capita of US$25,300 and a TFR of 1.5.

"The demographic divide between rich and poor countries," notes Carl Haub, the author of the data sheet, "is illustrated by long-term population projections. From 2002 to 2050, the more developed countries are projected to go from 1.197 billion to 1.249 billion, an increase of just 52 million people. Over the same period, the population of the less developed world will jump from 5.018 billion to 7.873 billion, an increase of more than 2.8 billion."

I'd rather live in a developed country, but maybe I'm just getting old and tired.

Posted by: Social Scientist at November 26, 2004 8:16 PM

Europe isn't developing, it's declining.

Posted by: oj at November 26, 2004 9:31 PM

SS --

The study may be confusing correlation with causation. High fertility rates need not lead to a decrease in GDP. Africans are reacting logically to living in a susbsitence, agriclutural based economy by having more children to provide for the parents retirement. European wealth was created during periods of higher fertility. Are the Euros pessimism over their economic prospects cause stagnant economies to yield zero population growth?

Posted by: Moe from NC at November 26, 2004 10:27 PM


"confusing correlation with causation. High fertility rates need not lead to a decrease in GDP"

SS can explain his position, but my point is not that low or high fertility rates cause higher or lower GDP, but that choices made by individuals in an advanced prosperous society are different than the choices made in a less developed economy. I have no need to speculate on why, but simply point out the consistent empirical evidence.

This is only relevant politically when someone is arguing that importing a fertile people into an advanced country will increase the fertility of the advanced country. It will, but only temporarily.

Posted by: h-man at November 27, 2004 5:24 AM


In the case of the US and fertile Latinas, temporarily is all we need.

Over half of the Boomers should be dead by 2060, so we just need two generations of high fertility to smooth things out.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at November 27, 2004 7:19 AM


"Africans are reacting logically to living in a susbsitence, agricultural based economy by having more children to provide for the parents retirement"

I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard that argument, but does it really make sense? Assuming a modicum of rationality here, why would dirt poor people think lots of kids would secure their "retirement"? If I was primarily concerned with that, I wouldn't have kids at all.

Africans presumably know, instintively or otherwise, that old age is still comparatively rare. Their lives are full of danger and uncertainty and subject to all kinds of political, meterological and medical whim. The average North American doesn't really begin to focus on securing his seniority until well into middle-age, which is why he needs to be harangued constantly by investment companies. I find it astounding that people think the average African couple plans at all on this subject.

Subsistence people have lots of children because it is the most natural thing in the world to do and they don't spend much time trying to control the future or worry about the long term. Aren't we projecting our modern neuroses here? When was the last time you heard a North American or Euor say they wanted a few more kids to secure their retirement?

Posted by: Peter B at November 27, 2004 7:24 AM

My home state, Rhode Island, takes top (or bottom) place. Oddly, a generation ago I would have thought they were one of the most fecund. RI is one of the most Catholic states in the US, and it was a normal state of affairs there in the 50s and 60s to come from a family of 5,6 or more children.

I think that Catholic baby boomer kids went to the opposite extreme when they grew up. During the sexual revolution, being a traditional Catholic was like being the most backward of hicks in a cosmopolitan city, there definitely was a desire by many to be the opposite of their parents.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 27, 2004 1:06 PM