Report: State of Contradiction


California has been at the vanguard of family change in America. Culturally and legally—from the Human Potential Movement to the passage of no-fault divorce under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, from Hollywood movies and shows like “The Graduate” and “Friends”—the Golden State has played a central role in pioneering and representing the cultural attitudes that have transformed marriage and family life across the nation. Indeed, because of Hollywood’s, and now Silicon Valley’s, outsized influence on the global stage, California has amplified values and virtues like expressive individualism, personal fulfillment, and tolerance across the world.

These liberal values and virtues can be valuable in the public square, yet they often stand in tension with stable, married family life. In fact, scholars have found that the spread of these more individualistic values since the 1960s has been strongly linked to more cohabitation, less marriage, more divorce, and greater family instability.

This week, Brad Wilcox, Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, and the Institute for Family Studies are releasing a new report, State of Contradiction: Progressive Family Culture, Traditional Family Structure in California. In the report, which is based on an original YouGov survey of 2,200 Californians, Wilcox and Dr. Wendy Wang find the following:

  • California has been at the cultural vanguard of family change in the United States and around the world, yet, surprisingly, the Golden State has more intact families than the nation as whole: About 67% of California parents are in intact marriages, compared to 63% of American parents.
  • College-educated elites in California embrace values of family diversity for the public at large but not in practice for their own private family lives. College-educated Californians are 20 percentage points more likely to believe “family diversity should be celebrated” than less educated Californians but they are 20 percentage points more likely to be stably married and to embrace the belief that “it is very important for me, personally, to be married before having children.”
  • Asians and immigrants are mostly responsible for California’s exceptional status when it comes to family structure. These two groups have the highest rates of intact families in the Golden State, with 80% of Asian families being intact and 70% of foreign-born Californians in intact families.
  • When we zero in on neighborhood data from Harvard’s Opportunity Atlas, we see that many of the state’s most elite neighborhoods, including three in Hollywood, have single parenthood rates of essentially 0%. These communities talk left and live right.

Click here to read or download the report.

Wendy Wang is Director of Research at the Institute for Family Studies and a former Senior Researcher at Pew Research Center.

W. Bradford Wilcox is professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.