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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Housing, Marriage, and Voting

This article tests the hypothesis that differences in the housing market can partially explain why some American counties are strongly Republican and others strongly Democratic, and that this phenomenon can be largely attributed to the relationship between home values and marriage rates within counties. Specifically, I test the hypothesis that, in the 2000 election, George W. Bush did comparatively better in counties with relatively affordable single-family homes, even when controlling for other economic, demographic and regional variables. Using county-level data, I test this hypothesis using spatial-lag regression models, and provide further evidence using individual-level survey data. My results indicate a statistically significant relationship between Bush’s percentage of the vote at the county level and the median value of
owner-occupied homes, and that at least part of this is explained by the relationship between home values and marriage rates among young women.
In The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last spells the practical implications for Republicans.  Specifically, they should back populist-minded policies that contain housing costs and promote marriage.
 This isn’t a heavy lift. There’s an enormous amount of research demonstrating that marriage makes people happier, healthier, and wealthier. The most recent addition to the literature came just a few weeks ago in the form of a report titled Knot Yet, by Kay Hymowitz, Brad Wilcox, Jason Carroll, and Kelleen Kaye, which examined the same delayed-marriage phenomenon that Hawley was studying in his model.
The Knot Yet authors have put together a list of policy ideas that could help Americans get to marriage earlier. For starters, Republicans could champion nontraditional degrees and vocational training instead of robotically pushing the universal four-year degree, which these days too often comes with a crushing load of debt. When Republicans talk about reforming the tax code they ought to advocate measures that will make family formation more affordable—like increased child tax credits—and be wary of plans—like removing the mortgage-interest deduction—which could make it more difficult.
Other ideas abound. Lately some Republicans have become obsessed with trying to outbid Democrats on issues, such as immigration and same-sex marriage, which do not offer any obvious political advantages. If they’re going to get into bidding wars, why not do it over a suite of issues that could actually bear electoral fruit? For instance, today Democrats are the only ones promoting family-friendly workplace policies. Hawley’s research suggests that Republicans ought to be competing in this space, too, helping to mitigate the professional costs young men and women incur by entering marriage and family life, and thus encouraging more of them to take the plunge.