The Institute for Family Studies recently put out a paper entitled State of Contradiction: Progressive Family Culture, Traditional Family Structure in California. They are trying to resolve what they see as a contradiction: California, home of progressive values, has a higher percentage of children with parents married to each other than the US average.

They commissioned a phone survey of Californians to try and solve this conundrum. They concluded:

“Ironically, Asians and immigrants are at odds with the values of the place where they have settled. They are more likely to reject individualistic values and to instead embrace familistic values and virtues that are more likely to sustain strong and stable marriages. Their familism finds support from the college-educated elites in California, who endorse family diversity in public but are much more marriage-minded in private, especially when children are in the picture. In their own ways, these three groups—Asians, immigrants, and more educated Californians—probably realize that the pathway to educational attainment, financial success, and the American Dream is much more likely to run through stable, married families than the alternatives. And so they live accordingly, even if—in their roles as movie producers, Silicon Valley executives, educators, and doctors—they often lend public voice to the cause of progressive family values.”

So essentially, Californians and especially Californian immigrants are hypocrites because they answered that “family diversity should be celebrated” and it is not “morally wrong for single women to have children on their own”, but “it’s very important for me, personally, to be married before having my children.”

I think it’s a bit strange that they see this as hypocrisy, especially if they are talking about Hollywood values. Can you name a single Hollywood character who is in a non-traditional family because that was their lifelong dream[1]? The plots include characters experiencing unplanned pregnancies, deaths, divorces, or failing to find “Mr. Right” in time, and thus turning to a sperm donor in desperation. But never as “plan A”. And that’s generally true in real life too. Non-traditional families happen most often because life is messy, not because they are people’s preference[2]. Saying that family diversity should be celebrated means celebrating people who are making families work in non-ideal circumstances. It means not judging people for being in different situations. It means respecting the people who do choose an alternative lifestyle. It does not mean that you can’t want a traditional family. The majority of people still do, and that’s OK.

Thus, I think it’s silly to do a study about why Californian parents are more likely to be married by asking questions about people’s preferences. Ultimately, what matters is how successful people are in following their preferred life plans. And for that question, their survey is useless. The important data comes from the Guttmacher Institute. In California, about 40% of pregnancies are unplanned (“wanted later or unwanted”), slightly over the average for the states. But only 37% of those result in births. Thus, 85% of California’s babies were planned. That’s the 4th highest number in the USA.

That’s right, birth control and abortion lead to traditional families! I know the Institute for Family Studies probably doesn’t like that answer, but that’s the reality. Unwanted pregnancies tend to result in single mothers. Or shotgun weddings, which are more likely to lead to divorce. The best way to maximize the number of children raised by married parents is to make sure parents are choosing when to have children, and not just winding up with a baby 9 months after they were horny.

[1] I’ll give you Big Love. But that would probably show up as an intact family in their survey anyway.

[2] This study did not analyze gay and lesbian responses separately, so in this case they seem to be considering children of married gay and lesbian couples traditional families.