Social Values, Social Wellness: Can We Know What Works?

Detail from the artwork "Red States, Inc." by Dr. Bob Hieronimus illustrating the differences in overall wellness in Red States vs. Blue States. Click here to see the full artwork and read the commentary about it.

by Stephan A. Schwartz

SchwartzReport EXPLORE March/April 2012, Vol. 8, No. 2 89

The Schwartzreport tracks emerging trends that will affect the world, particularly the United States. For EXPLORE, it focuses on matters of health in the broadest sense of that term, including medical issues, changes in the biosphere, echnology, and policy considerations, all of which will shape our culture and our lives.


Even the most secluded person cannot fail to have noticed that the United States is riven by two competing worldviews—one politically and culturally conservative and religiously bounded and the other socially progressive and largely “spiritual but not religious.” Each is defined endlessly in the media—which just feeds the divisiveness—so my need to do it here is hardly necessary.

An unintended consequence of the financial collapse has been a further intensification of this schism. The rise of the antipodal Tea Party and 99er-Occupy Movements attests to this. The rhetoric of their disunity is couched in the language of values, and it is a wrenching struggle.

Which challenges us to ask this question: If it is a fight over values, which values are best? Of course the critical word here is best, so let me define what I mean by that. Best is the greatest state of social wellness beginning with the individual and growing to include our entire society, Earth, and all the beings who inhabit the planet. This is the transition we must make, reflected in every aspect of individual and social life. It’s not whether we have to make these changes but rather how much pain are we willing to endure before we make wellness our first priority? So this is a very important question.

Can we answer it in an objectively verifiable way? Can we avoid the mires of theological or ideological dispute? Can we know with surety which set of values produces greater social wellness? The answer: Yes, we can. And we can do it on the basis of data, with no reference to polemics, ideology, or theology. Just data. Does the conservative theocratic worldview of the right, or the more inclusive social progressive left produce better outcomes as defined by greater wellness? Thanks to a network of excellence, created through the meticulous work of hundreds of researchers, publishing thousands of studies, we can work out an answer in which we can repose significant confidence. And we should.

U.S. Census Poverty Map


I want to look at one thing, families, to make the point. Why? Two reasons. First, because dozens of studies in several disciplines, from biology to sociology, tell us that families, in some form, are the foundation of every social order from beehives to nations. Second, because the importance of families is the central value upon which both of these great social cohorts in America agree.

Happily, for the purposes of science, this dispute over worldviews is so deep and pervasive it has taken over American politics and can be seen publicly as the Red States and the Blue States. Who voted for John McCain; who voted for Barack Obama? Naomi Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School, and June Carbone, chair of law, the constitution and society at the University of Missouri at Kansas City and authors of Red Families vs. Blue Families describe it this way:

Blue families, in order to make it possible to invest in women as well as men, defer marriage and childbearing, and reap the advantages from older partners’ greater emotional maturity and financial independence. The “bluest” areas of the country, and particularly the urban northeast, have the highest averages ages of family formation and demonstrate the greatest support for the mechanisms that effectively deter teen births. The new model also lowers fertility and produces higher rates of non-marital cohabitation.

Red families, centered in the more religious and marriage-oriented communities of the South, the mountain west and the plains, continue to embrace unity of sex, marriage and reproduction. The growing gap between the beginning of sexuality and readiness for childbearing alarms religious parents about the morality of their offspring, and higher divorce and non-marital birth rates threaten the fabric of these communities. 1

To build families there, first have to be partnerships. Conservative theologicals (CTs), of course, define these partnerships as one man, one woman. Social progressives (SPs) define them as loving committed partnerships of whatever gender. Regardless of the gender battle, one measure of how good a relationship is whether it lasts. The comparative answer can be seen in divorce rates as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nevada, of course, is first in divorce, because it makes a specialty in both ends of matrimony. But the next eight states, in descending order—Arkansas, West Virginia, Wyoming, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Alabama, and Alaska—can all be defined as Red societies.2 Obviously, Red-State families have a harder time maintaining stable loving partnerships, and one reason for this is that they encourage early marriage, often before young personalities are fully formed.

But, in the second decade of the 21st century, maybe marriage and divorce are no longer the only metrics by which to measure family wellness. Red State or Blue, marriage as a proposition is decreasing. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world at 4.95 per 1,000 people. For comparison, the United Kingdom is 4th with 3.08, and Canada is 8th with 2.46 per thousand.3 Increasingly, Americans don’t get married at all.

As the Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data showed:

Half of all adults in the United States—a record low—are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7).

In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are. If current trends continue, the share of adults who are currently married will drop to below half within a few years. Other adult living arrangements—including cohabitation, single-person households and single parenthood—have all grown more prevalent in recent decades.4

Therefore, if we are going to have healthy families, if our family wellness is to increase, perhaps it isn’t marriage as a religious institution on which we need to focus. Perhaps it is healthy relationships in whatever form — religious or nonreligious — that we need to nourish. Our national wellness springs from healthy stable relationships that endure. And our failure as a culture to reconcile ourselves to this is causing us enormous stress, and it is clear that CTs, once again have the least wellness. Rebecca Ruiz, writing in Forbes says,

Much of the American South is ailing, with West Virginia the worst off--at least, if the rate of prescription drug use is any indication. The state filled 17.7 prescriptions per capita compared to a national average of 11.5, according to Verispan, a health care information company.

Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Missouri also have prescription drug-use rates well above the national average. 5

What makes this important to values is explained by Dr. Jane Barlow, vice president of medical strategy and clinical quality for Medco Health Solutions, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers. To her this is explained thusly “The growth in prescription drug use,” arises from the “chronic diseases that are largely preventable and are linked to lifestyle and physical activity.” 6 The CT-Red States use more medication because, she says, “Their rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes are higher than the national average, particularly in West Virginia.” 6

It’s not just physical health either. As Marcia Angell writes,

A large survey of randomly selected adults, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and conducted between 2001 and 2003, found that an astonishing 46 percent met criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) for having had at least one mental illness within four broad categories at some time in their lives. The categories were ’anxiety disorders,” including, among other subcategories, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); ’mood disorders,” including major depression and bipolar disorders; ’impulse-control disorders,” including various behavioral problems and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and ’substance use disorders,” including alcohol and drug abuse. Most met criteria for more than one diagnosis. Of a subgroup affected within the previous year, a third were under treatment-up from a fifth in a similar survey ten years earlier. 6

The CT Red States are not producing the best success at sustaining either relationships or marriages, and the lifestyle choices reflected by these values is literally making people sick.


What changes a relationship into a family? Offspring, of course. Children start with pregnancies and birth. How do women fare in bringing a son or daughter into the world? Children do better in the SP states than in the CT states. Why? Consider the Right’s assault on Planned Parenthood, again justified explicitly by values. And consider: As a result of the relentless pressure from the Right, we don’t have the universal health-care considered a citizen right in most of the developed world. We have tried the Right’s approach to “for-profit” Health industry medicine for more than three decades, since the Nixon Administration made it possible. Can anyone claim ignorance of this model’s failure? The World Health Organization assessed our standing as compared with the rest of the world and finds we are 37th.7 And the most recent United Nations assessment, released in September of 2010, shows “the United States is 50th in the world for maternal mortality—obstetrical death—with maternal mortality ratios higher than almost all European countries, as well as several countries in Asia and the Middle East.” 8

Yet according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP), “we spend more on childbirth-related care than any other area of hospitalization— US$86 billion a year.”

“Even more troubling,” the ARHP points out “the United Nations data show that between 1990 and 2008, while the vast majority of countries reduced their maternal mortality ratios for a global decrease of 34%, maternal mortality nearly doubled in the United States.” It seems very unlikely that the U.S. is going to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goal #5—the reduction of maternal mortality by 75 percent by the year 2015.9

To place this in its larger context, remember the U.S. pays a far higher percentage of its GDP—16 percent in 2008—compared with the best healthcare in the world, which is French, and takes only 11.2 percent.

We have pursued policies that have failed to serve our collective wellness. Why is that? Because of values. All of this arises because one set of values has predominated and given us an illness-profit system, not a genuine healthcare system, one that puts national wellness first. It may be unpalatable, but the truth about the United States is thus: we place more importance on the value of profit than we do the value of individual and social wellness.

And, once those children are born how will they fare?


From state performance data, we can say that the children growing up in states in which the Red family values prevail will received less education, and are more likely to be obese and to have more diabetes. There also is more teen pregnancy.

Margaret Talbot, writing in the New Yorker, presents this very clearly in her discussion about the work of Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas at Austin sociologist, and the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, which has ignited enormous controversy, but whose data have not been refuted. He said, “evangelical Protestant teen-agers are significantly less likely than other groups to use contraception. This could be because evangelicals are also among the most likely to believe that using contraception will send the message that they are looking for sex. It could also be because many evangelicals are steeped in the abstinence movement’s warnings that condoms won’t actually protect them from pregnancy or venereal disease.”11

In the Red States there is also a higher incidence of teen age sexually transmitted diseases, and children who grow up in these states are also exposed to the most violence. If one lists the 10 most violent states and the top 10 most religious states, six of the 10—Louisiana Alabama, Tennessee Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma—are on both lists.

Saddest of all, much of this violence is aimed at them personally. The children of the Right are more likely to be beaten, raped, and murdered by their own families. During the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. Can you believe that, can you accept that nearly four times as many children have died at home than U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? More than 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year. 12

America has more child abuse than any other industrialized country in the world. We’re number one. A child in the United States is 11 times more likely to be abused than a contemporary in Italy and three times more likely to be punched and brutalized than a child in Canada. Much of the reason for our number one position is revealed when one examines state level data. Red Texas has four times more child abuse than Blue Vermont, and it doesn’t end there.13

The BBC reports, “In looking at key indicators of well-being, children from Texas are twice as likely to drop out of high school as children from Vermont. They are four times more likely to be uninsured, four times more likely to be incarcerated, and nearly twice as likely to die from abuse and neglect.” 12

There is much more that could be said. But this is enough to make the point. If we really do care about family values, and we should, and we make our decisions on the basis of facts, with wellness as our goal, social progressive Blue values can get us there, whereas the outcome data we have suggests the Red Right values will not. That is not a political judgment, just what the data tell us. In the miasma of political exposition and commentary I hope we can stay in touch with that. Just as we know what is wrong. We also know what works.

1. Cahn N, Carbone J. Red families vs. blue families. Washington Post. Available at: families.html. Accessed December 12, 2011.
2. Births, Deaths, Marriages, & Divorces: Marriage and Divorces. The 2012 Statistical Abstract. Available at: http://www.census. gov/compendia/statab/cats/births_deaths_ marriages_divorces/marriages_and_divorces. html. Accessed December 15, 2011.
3. Divorce Rate by Country. http://www.nationmaster. com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate.
Accessed December 16, 2011.
4. Cohn. D’V, Passel J, Wang W, Livingston G. Barely half of U.S. adults are married—a record low. Pew Research Center. Available at: barely-half-of-u-s-adults-are-married-a-recordlow/1/. Accessed December 14, 2011.
5. Ruiz R. America’s most medicated states. Forbes. Available at: 2009/08/17/most-medicated-states-lifestylehealth-prescription-drugs_print.html. Accessed December 16, 2011.
6. AngellM.Theepidemicofmentalillness:why? The New York Review of Books. Available at: 2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/.
Accessed: 23 June 2011.
7. World Health Organization’s Ranking of the World’s Health Systems. The patient factor. Available at: http://thepatientfactor. com/canadian-health-care-information/worldhealth-organizations-ranking-of-the-worldshealth-systems/ Accessed December 15, 2011.
8. Coeytaux F, Bingham D, Strauss N. V Maternal mortality in the United States: a human rights failure. Assoc. of Reproductive Health Professionals. Available at: http://www.arhp. org/publications-and-resources/contraceptionjournal/march-2011. Accessed December 12, 2011.
9. Goal 5: Improved Maternal Health. United Nations. Available at: millenniumgoals/maternal.shtml. Accessed December 16, 2011.
10. Health Care Spending in the United States and Selected OECD Countries April 2011. Kaiser Family Foundation Available at:. http://www. cfm. Accessed December 15, 2011.
11. Talbot M Red Sex, Blue Sex. The New Yorker. Available at: reporting/2008/11/03/081103fa_fact_talbot. Accessed December 17, 2011.
12. National Child Abuse Statistics. Child-help. Available at: http://www.childhelp. org/pages/statistics. Accessed December 16, 2011.
13. America’s child death shame. BBC News. Available at: magazine-15193530. Accessed December 7, 2011.

Stephan A. Schwartz is the editor of the daily web publication The Schwartzreport (http://, which concentrates on trends that will shape the future, an area of research he has been working in since the mid1960s. He is also the Senior Samueli Fellow in Brain, Mind and Healing at the Samueli Institute. For over 35 years Schwartz has also been an active experimentalist doing research on the nature of consciousness, particularly Remote Viewing, healing, creativity, religious ecstasy, and meditation. He is the author of several books and numerous papers, technical reports, and general audience articles on these topics.