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The Red and Blue of Marriage

by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT,

A study by Harvard University researchers that looked at data for more than five million families, and that was recently featured in The New York Times, found that where you live in the United States greatly influences your chances of getting married. The study parsed the data according to political affiliation (blue versus red counties and states), as well as population density (big town versus small town). In a nutshell, if you were brought up in or even have moved to a liberal-thinking, densely populated, metropolitan area, such as New York City or Washington DC, you are less likely to marry than if you lived in a small town, in the deep South, or generally anywhere in a red state.

We also know from Pew Research Center findings that 80% of Conservatives think society benefits when people consider marriage their priority, while 77% of Liberals think other priorities are more beneficial. We only have to think of same-sex marriage, abortion, the Confederate flag, immigration, and countless other issues to realize how deeply divided our society is. Marriage, it seems, is one more issue that divides us. This debate was the subject of Cahn and Carbone’s Red Families v. Blue Families (2010), and proponents from each side of the debate continue to seek data that will advantage their views.

It may be that marriage in its current form is undergoing a change. Or perhaps, as some like to predict, it is being phased out entirely. For instance, many Millennials claim they are not interested in committed, long-term love relationships. They are more comfortable with groupings of individuals and less drawn to pair bonding. One thing we can say for certain, however, is that even if the forms are changing, relationships themselves are not being phased out. Families aren’t being phased out. Falling in love is not an archaic experience. Just walk down the street and look around. Just turn on the TV. Just scan the Internet. People are pairing up in some form or another.

I think we should also admit that we don’t have a crystal ball. It is premature to draw conclusions about the long-term future of marriage. The participants in the Harvard study are only old enough to yield data up to the age of 30. We don’t know if they will move away from their current Liberal perspective and adopt more Conservative views by the time they reach 40. Many in previous generations have done so.

From a PACT perspective, we can consider whether researchers would find different results if they focused on our definition of secure-functioning relationships between two people rather than on more conventional definitions, such as whether families are “intact” or “stable.” While being intact and stable are certainly correlates of secure functioning, they do not necessarily include all the beliefs and behaviors that make a marriage secure. Ultimately, I believe that people pair bond for the purpose of obtaining a safe and secure union. That may look one way in blue states and another way in red states, but our job as therapists is to look beyond the politics and concentrate on improving the lives of those who come to us for help.


Leonhardt, D. (2015, July 1). Intact families, continued: The red-county advantage. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Leonhardt, D., & Quealy, K. (2015, May 15). How your hometown affects your chances of marriage. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center. (2014, June 26). Compare political typology groups. Retrieved from

Cahn, N., & Carbone, J. (2010). Red families v. blue families: Legal polarization and the creation of culture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

1 Comment

  1. Lauren McElroy says:

    As you wrote, Stan, one way or the other, if we call it marriage or something else, pair bonding gives pleasure and reaches in to our deepest selves. When I saw this photo in today’s Arizona Daily Star showing two couples reuniting I thought of the full engagement embrace you talk about in PACT. Notice that the servicemen are returning a 6-month period in Europe, not an active war zone, so recovery from war trauma is not likely part of the picture:


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