Tag Archives: state comparisons

Is Gun Control a City vs. Country Debate?

Cross-posted at Jennifer Carlson’s Blog.

In national gun debates, we often think about America as “divided” geographically along the issue of guns. USA Today recently reduced the American gun debate to “urban vs. rural,” saying that “[o]ne of the biggest factors in where you stand on gun ownership and gun violence depends, literally, on where you lay your head at night.” This captures an important truth about American gun politics, but relying too much on the rural/urban divide across states obscures how this plays out within states.

The urban/rural divide in gun cultures suggests that guns are a necessary and practical tool for rural Americans who need them for the purposes of hunting, self-protection, and so forth. But these same factors should become irrelevant in the urban setting: between supermarkets and public services (combined with denser living), urbanites should see guns either as a hobby (for some urbanites) or a hazard (for most urbanites) rather than a practical tool of everyday life.

Following this logic, public law enforcement officials in urban areas should also oppose gun rights, and in fact, many do. Ken James, police chief of the Emeryville Police Department and head of the firearms task force of the Police Chief’s Association of California, recently called the notion that guns are defensive weapons a “myth” has said in the past that he prefers that his officers do not carry guns off-duty. Likewise, a number of national police associations have come out in support of Obama’s gun control proposals.  In contrast, over 400 county sheriffs have publicly stated that they will not enforce any “unconstitutional” laws signed by the Obama administration.  Perhaps the rural/urban divide is driving gun politics.

But maybe not.  Let’s take a closer look at the county-level politics of gun control attitudes in California, a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the US, and Arizona, a state with some of the most permissive laws.

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Interestingly, both states have roughly the same number of counties with sheriffs that have aligned themselves with this pro-gun platform: in Arizona, 40% of county sheriffs have signed on, while in California, this figure is 31%. These numbers aren’t that different, considering how different their gun laws are. But here’s where it gets interesting: the expected urban/rural divide appears in California, but not Arizona, where urban counties have more pro-gun sheriffs.  What this means is that the rural/urban divide — at least in terms of sheriff support for gun rights — is flipped between gun-phobic California and gun-crazed Arizona.

No doubt, these two maps raise the question of how other issues intersect with, and structure, gun politics: for example, the politics of immigration likely have much more to say about the differences between Arizona and California than any straightforward divide between rural and urban America. Indeed, these maps suggest that there are logics about the role of guns in the pursuit of social order and policing at work in California versus Arizona that are not captured by neat dichotomies between “rural” and “urban” Americans.

Jennifer Carlson, PhD is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. She is working on a book manuscript entitled, “Clinging to their Guns? The New Politics of Gun Carry in Everyday Life.”

Marriage is Over: “Live With It”

Cross-posted at The Atlantic and Family Inequality.

In 1996 the Hoover Institution published a symposium titled “Can Government Save the Family?”  A who’s-who list of culture warriors — including Dan Quayle, James Dobson, John Engler, John Ashcroft, and David Blankenhorn — were asked, “What can government do, if anything, to make sure that the overwhelming majority of American children grow up with a mother and father?”

There wasn’t much disagreement on the panel.  Their suggestions were (1) end welfare payments for single mothers, (2) stop no-fault divorce, (3) remove tax penalties for marriage, and (4) fix “the culture.” From this list their only victory was ending welfare as we knew it, which increased the suffering of single mothers and their children but didn’t affect the trajectory of marriage and single motherhood.

So the collapse of marriage continues apace. Since 1980, for every state in every decade, the percentage of women who are married has fallen (except Utah in the 1990s):

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Red states (last four presidential elections Republican) to blue (last four Democrat), and in between (light blue, purple, light red), makes no difference:

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But the “marriage movement” lives on. In fact, their message has changed remarkably little. In that 1996 symposium, Dan Quayle wrote:

We also desperately need help from nongovernment institutions like the media and the entertainment community. They have a tremendous influence on our culture and they should join in when it comes to strengthening families.

Sixteen years later, in the 2012 “State of Our Unions” report, the National Marriage Project included a 10-point list of familiar demands, including this point #8:

Our nation’s leaders, including the president, must engage Hollywood in a conversation about popular culture ideas about marriage and family formation, including constructive critiques and positive ideas for changes in media depictions of marriage and fatherhood.

So little reflection on such a bad track record — it’s enough to make you think that increasing marriage isn’t the main goal of the movement.

Plan for the Future

So what is the future of marriage? Advocates like to talk about turning it around, bringing back a “marriage culture.” But is there a precedent for this, or a reason to expect it to happen? Not that I can see. In fact, the decline of marriage is nearly universal. A check of United Nations statistics on marriage trends shows that 87 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with marriage rates that have fallen since the 1980s.

Here is the trend in the marriage rate since 1940, with some possible scenarios to 2040 (source: 1940-19601970-2011):

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Notice the decline has actually accelerated since 1990. Something has to give. The marriage movement folks say they want a rebound. With even the most optimistic twist imaginable (and a Kanye wedding), could it get back to 2000 levels by 2040? That would make headlines, but the institution would still be less popular than it was during that dire 1996 symposium.

If we just keep going on the same path (the red line), marriage will hit zero at around 2042. Some trends are easy to predict by extrapolation (like next year’s decline in the name Mary), but major demographic trends usually don’t just smash into 0 or 100 percent, so I don’t expect that.

The more realistic future is some kind of taper. We know, for example, that decline of marriage has slowed considerably for college graduates, so they’re helping keep it alive — but that’s still only 35 percent of women in their 30s, not enough to turn the whole ship around.

So Live With It

So rather than try to redirect the ship of marriage, we have to do what we already know we have to do: reduce the disadvantages accruing to those who aren’t married — or whose parents aren’t married. If we take the longer view we know this is the right approach: In the past two centuries we’ve largely replaced such family functions as food production, healthcare, education, and elder care with a combination of state and market interventions. As a result — even though the results are, to put it mildly, uneven — our collective well-being has improved rather than diminished, even though families have lost much of their hold on modern life.

If the new book by sociologist Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson is to be believed, there is good news for the floundering marriage movement in this approach: Policies to improve the security of poor people and their children also tend to improve the stability of their relationships.  In other words, supporting single people supports marriage.

To any clear-eyed observer it’s obvious that we can’t count on marriage anymore — we can’t build our social welfare system around the assumption that everyone does or should get married if they or their children want to be cared for. That’s what it means when pensions are based on spouse’s earnings, employers don’t provide sick leave or family leave, and when high-quality preschool is unaffordable for most people. So let marriage be truly voluntary, and maybe more people will even end up married. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Who is the Highest Paid Employee of Your State?

Hint from Dmitriy T.C.: he probably wears shorts to work.

Here’s the infographic, sent in also by sociologist Michael Kimmel, revealing the highest paid employee in each state.  Yellow, orange, and green states are all ones in which the most money goes to an athletic coach.  More details at DeadSpin.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Demographics and the Future of the GOP

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jeb Bush told CPAC that the Republican party had an image problem.

Way too many people believe that Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.

People have good reason to believe those things.  But the “way too many” suggests that the GOP’s problem is not image or brand, it’s demography.  For five years or longer, the Republican faithful have been complaining that “their” country was being taken away from them, and they were going to take it back (e.g., see my “Repo Men” post).

They were right.  Their country, a country dominated by older white men, is fading in the demographic tide.  The groups whose numbers in the electorate are on the rise don’t look like them.  Andrew Gelman (here) recently published these graphs as an update to his 2009 Red State, Blue State.  They reveal the tendency for different groups to vote more Democratic (blue) and Republican (red):

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(The exit poll the data are based on sampled only in the 30 most competitive state. Texas and Georgia are large, and they have significant non-White populations. But demographic changes there are unlikely to have much effect on which party gets their electoral votes.)

Unfortunately for the GOP, the non-White proportion of the electorate will continue to grow. The female proportion may also increase, especially as education levels of women rise (more educated people are more likely to vote than are the less educated).

The key factor is party loyalty.  And, at least in presidential elections, people do remain loyal. I think I once read, “If you can get them for two consecutive elections, you’ve got them for life.”  Or words to that effect.  If that’s true, the age patterns of the last two elections should be what the Republicans are worrying about.

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Trying to make themselves more attractive to younger people will not be easy.  Oldsmobile tried it not so long ago (a post on that campaign is here).  “This is not your father’s GOP” might have similar lack of success.  But insisting that this is still your father’s GOP (or more accurately, some white dude’s father’s GOP) seems like a formula for failure.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Assault Deaths Within the United States

Cross-posted at Kieran Healy’s blog.

The chart in “America is a Violent Country” has been getting a lot of circulation. Time to follow up with some more data. As several commentators at CT noted, the death rate from assault in the U.S. is not uniform within the country. Unfortunately, state-level and county-level mortality data are not easily available for the time period covered by the previous post — though they do exist, going back to the 1940s. What I have to hand is a decade’s worth of US mortality data courtesy of CDC WONDERcovering 1999 to 2009. I extracted the assault deaths according to the same criteria the OECD uses (for the time period in question, ICD-10 codes X85-Y09 and Y87.1). The estimates are adjusted to the 2000 U.S. population, which isn’t identical to the standard OECD adjustment. But the basic comparability should be OK, for our purposes.

First, it’s well-known that there are strong regional differences in the assault death rate in the U.S. by state and region. Here’s what the patterns look like by state from 1999 to 2009 (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

This figure excludes the District of Columbia, which has a much higher death rate but is also a city. Also missing are a few states with small populations and low absolute numbers of assault deaths — Wyoming, North Dakota, Vermont — such that the CDC can’t generate reliable age-adjusted estimates for them. If you want a “small-multiple” view with each state shown separately from high to low, here you go.

The legend for the figure above arranges the states from high to low, reading top to bottom and left to right. Although it’s clear that geographical region isn’t everything, those tendencies are immediately apparent. Let’s look at them using the official census regions (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

As is well known, the South is more violent than the rest of the country, by some distance. Given the earlier post, the natural thing to do is to put these regional trends into the cross-national comparison and see — for the decade we have, anyway — how these large U.S. regions would fare if they were OECD countries. Again, bear in mind that the age-adjustment is not quite comparable (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

Despite their large differences, all of the U.S. regions have higher average rates of death from assault than any of the 24 OECD countries we looked at previously. The placid Northeast comes relatively close to the upper end of the most violent countries in our OECD group.

Finally, there’s the question of racial and ethic incidence of these deaths within the United States. Here are the decade’s trends broken out by the race of the victim, rather than by state or region (click for a larger PNG or PDF):

The story here is depressing. Blacks die from assault at more than three times the U.S. average, and between ten and twenty times OECD rates. In the 2000s the average rate of death from assault in the U.S. was about 5.7 per 100,000 but for whites it was 3.6 and for blacks it was over 20. Even 3.6 per 100,000 is still well above the OECD-24 average, which – if we exclude the U.S. – was about 1.1 deaths per 100,000 during the 2000s, with a maximum value of 2.9. An average value of 20 is just astronomical. And this is after a long period of decline in the death rate from assault.

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Kieran Healy is a professor of sociology in the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.  His research is primary concerned with the moral order of a market society. You can follow him on twitter and at his blog.

Public Opinion on Gun Control

Ezra Klein at Wonkblog has put together an impressive collection of statistics on guns and mass shootings, including this data on public opinion on gun control.

To begin, people seem generally less interested in owning guns.  The percent of households with guns has been steadily decreasing for decades:

But, perhaps counter-intuitively, support for gun control has waned:

We might expect a tragedy like this week’s shooting to raise the overall level of support for gun control, but it probably won’t.  Previous shootings have not had much of an impact on opinion:

Still, there is more support for some forms of gun control than others:

For what it’s worth, gun-related deaths are lower in states with stronger gun control.  Economist Richard Florida found “substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48)”:

It’s hard to know, however, whether this is correlation or causation.  Florida did not find correlations between gun deaths and other factors that we might expect to be correlated, including dense populations, high rates of stress, high numbers of immigrants, and mental illness.

Klein thinks that now is the time to talk about the role of gun control in preventing tragedies like the one in Newtown.  He suggests we go ahead and politicize the shooting, since silencing a discussion is just another form of politicization. He writes:

If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.

Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. “Too soon,” howl supporters of loose gun laws. But as others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn’t “too soon.” It’s much too late.

I agree that now is a good time to talk about gun control. And, we should do it with as many facts as possible, no matter where they lead us.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Who Wants to Secede from the U.S.A.?

Over at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sociologist Neal Caren and a team of graduate students have worked up on image showing the locations of people signing secession petitions on the White House website in the wake of Obama’s reelection.

For context, here’s the text of one such petition, from Alaska:

ALLOW ALASKA TO SECEDE FROM A DYSFUNCTIONAL UNION.

As an American Veteran on behalf of the U.S. Constitution, the Republic, the Rule of Law, and equal justice for all freedom loving citizens of the United States of America hereby declare that the Federal Government allow Alaska to peacefully secede from a dysfunctional Union that is run by corrupt politicians who buy the votes of individuals who can no longer be seen as American citizens but rather, slaves to a tyrant. We who took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, now declare Washington D.C. to be the domestic enemy to the freedom and liberty of all Alaskans and indeed, 50% of the free citizens of the USA. Therefore, we declare our secession in support of the U.S. Constitution. LET MY PEOPLE GO!

Almost all states have an active petition now. Here’s the map of signers from around the country, shaded according to the proportion of each county’s residents who signed a secession petition. If you click on the image you go to the site, which allows you to hover over each county and see the counts:Neal Caren writes:

In total, we collected data on 702,092 signatures. Of these, we identified 248,936 unique combinations of names and places, suggesting that a large number of people were signing more than one petition. Approximately 90%, or 223,907, of these individuals provided valid city locations that we could locate with a U.S. county.

Using a first-name algorithm, they estimate that 62% of those signing are men.

Philip N. Cohen is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and writes the blog Family Inequality. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Interactive Map of Median Income by County

The Census Bureau has created an interactive map that lets you see median household income by county. Median household income for the entire U.S. is $51,914, but of course there is enormous variety around the country. The map lets you select an amount and see which counties have medians below that level.

Three counties — Owsley and Breathitt in Kentucky and Brooks in south Texas — have median household incomes below $20,000 a year (the white spot in Louisiana is water):

So half of households in those areas are living on less than $20,000 a year.

If we go up to $30,000 a year, we see a clear pattern. The counties are particularly concentrated in the South, especially along the Mississippi River, in Appalachia, in southern Texas, a few areas of New Mexico, and several counties in South Dakota that include Native American reservations:

If we look at the $52,000 mark — right at the overall U.S. median — we see, unsurprisingly, a lot of counties on the coasts or that have at least mid-sized cities in them, though there are certainly some counties that don’t fit that pattern:

On the upper end, there are six counties where the median household income is above $100,000 — Hunterdon, in New Jersey; Howard, in Maryland; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and three Virginia counties, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Loudoun:

You can see the Census Bureau’s table of median household income in every county in the U.S. here.