The Magazine

Start a Family...

And before you know it, you'll be voting for the GOP.

Apr 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 30 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Widget tooltip
Audio version Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In Hawley’s final pass through the model, he looked at how median home price and the marriage rate interact with one another. And here he found another powerful relationship: Every $10,000 increase in median home value causes a 0.3 percent decrease in the marriage rate of the 25- to 30-year-old cohort. Which suggests that, all else being equal, increasing home prices delays marriage.

Hawley’s research might seem esoteric, but it carries with it an extraordinary amount of practical political guidance for Republicans.

For instance, the GOP is rightly committed to increasing economic prosperity. But Hawley notes that rising incomes don’t actually produce any political benefit for Republicans if they require increasing educational attainment and are accompanied by rising land costs. So Republican economic policy should probably be somewhat more populist-minded.

And about those land costs. Whether or not Democrats have intuited that higher housing prices help them, liberal urban planning shibboleths—fealty to mass transit combined with a dogmatic commitment to increasing population density—have the effect of making homes more expensive. Republicans ought to be just as interested in measures which contain housing costs, such as building highways and removing land-use restrictions. In other words, Republicans ought to be every bit as committed to the suburban project as Democrats are to urbanization.

Geography has long proved resistant to policy initiatives, and land costs are malleable only to a point. Sociology, however, is more promising. The Republican party can’t lower the cost of real estate in Manhattan but it could plausibly encourage more Americans to get married. In the same way no politician ever misses an opportunity to extol the virtues of college, Republicans should insistently be making the case for 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.

As the party of commerce and free markets, Republicans are constitutionally disposed toward prizing economic growth, job creation, and lower taxes, which is fine, so far as these things go. But regaining the White House and becoming a majority party again will require more than that. Instead of flitting from one political fad to the next, the GOP ought to be fixating on the foundational questions that most influence voting behavior: encouraging young men and women to get hitched and lowering the financial barriers for those ready to tie the knot.

Sociologists have long acknowledged the good societal outcomes of such behavior. George Hawley has demonstrated in no uncertain terms the good political outcomes. If the Republican strategists don’t take note, they’ll deserve to keep losing elections.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and the author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (Encounter). 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers