Aside from transient memes such as Jesusland sectional sentiment tends to be implicit and remain below the surface, especially outside of “Dixie”, in the United States today. In a nation the size of a continent and populated by over 300 million we first start with an aggregation, as if we’re just another nation-state. This is evident when we compare how the United States is doing compared to…France, or the United Kingdom, or Denmark. Except the Russian Federation the proper point of comparison for all the large European nations is probably California. If we do disaggregate the United States first we generally start with race, and then perhaps move on to politics. But many of these variables are rooted in deeper sectional identities, which were much more salient in the early republic. Many of the arguments about the nature of the Civil War in terms of whether it was “about” slavery or economics or states rights misses the bigger picture that all of these issues contributed to, and emerged out of, an organic historical process where the new republic crystallized as a divergent set of regional interests which predate the founding.
Here is an fascinating section from the New England polemicist and minister Theodore Parker from The great battle between slavery and freedom:
In 1850…Arkansas had 97,402 white persons under twenty, and only 11,050 attending school; while of 210,831 whites of that age in Michigan, 112,175 were at school or college. Last year, Michigan had 132,234 scholars in her public common schools. In 1850, Arkansas contained 64,787 whites over twenty, – but 16,935 of these were unable to read and white; while, out of 184,240 of that age in Michigan, only 8,281 were thus ignorant, – of these, 3009 were foreigns; while, of the 16,935 illiterate persons of Arkansas, only 37 were born out of that State. The Slave State had only 47,852 persons over twenty who could read a word; while the free State had 175,959. Michigan had 107,943 volumes in “libraries other than private,” and Arkansas 420 volumes….
Arkansas and Michigan were of particular interest because these were old frontier states which were settled primarily (at least initially in the case of Michigan, before 20th century industrialization) by whites from particular regions of the United States; the Old South in the case of Arkansas, and New England and upstate New York in the case of Michigan. A new paper, Black and White Fertility, Differential Baby Booms: The Value of Civil Rights, has some old Census data which I thought would be of interest. In particular, they report fertility and years of education for a given Census region. Here’s a map which shows the divisions:
Below are two types of plots. One shows the absolute values and the other a ratio compared to the national mean. The data are children born and years of schooling. Please note that background variables are not controlled for, so regions with lots of young people will naturally have lower years of schooling, and regions which are adult migrant magnets may have inflated years of school.
1) Migration patterns probably explain some of the patterns. The Pacific region seems to have been the most well educated for much of the past century, but I wonder if that is a function of th selective migration of people from the east.
2) There has been a radical convergence in the years of education. When Theodore Parker was writing there was a big gap between the North and the South which no longer exists. But history matters for institutions, and most elite universities remain skewed in their regional distributions.
3) Looking at the ratio of regional fertility to the national mean it seems like you see evidence for different points of demographic transition.