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High divorce rates and teen pregnancy are worse in conservative states than liberal states

But moral panic won't help lower divorce rates and teen pregnancy in conservative states; education will.

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Hard times, however, also increase calls for a return to more fixed and traditional values. The fact that traditional families are flailing often persuades them that a return to traditional values is that much more critical. In today’s world, however, almost all of the traditional nostrums have proved counterproductive.

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Missing from this debate is recognition of the bankruptcy of traditionalist family values as policy for the postindustrial era. We are entirely sympathetic with those inclined to lock up their daughters from puberty until marriage, but we do recognize that the societies abroad most insistent on policing women’s virtue are locked into cycles of poverty.

In the United States, states that emphasize abstinence-only education, limit public subsidies of contraception, restrict access to abortion – and, yes, oppose gay marriage – have higher teen birth and divorce rates.

Yet the failure of the family values movement simply produces another round of moral panic and calls for more draconian restrictions. The most destructive have been those that marginalize the next generation. The latest studies show that as the economy has gone south, teen and nonmarital births and abortions have all increased. This indicates that contraception has become less available and pregnant women more desperate about their futures. Employment figures also demonstrate that male employment has fallen even further than female employment, making youthful weddings that much riskier.

The solution? As we outline in great detail in our book “Red Families v. Blue Families,” there are three critical steps we can take: (1) promote access to contraception – within marriage as well as outside it; (2) develop a greater ability to combine not only work and family, but family and education; and (3) make sure the next generation stays in school, learns the skills to be employed, and cultivates values that can adapt to the future.

Naomi Cahn is the John Theodore Fey Research Professor of Law at George Washington University Law School, and a senior fellow at the Donaldson Adoption Institute. June Carbone is the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. They are coauthors of “Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture.”

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