Think it's a coincidence that Texas has a lot of tornadoes and also a lot of homophobia? According to a recent analysis, the two may be more closely related than you think.
A paper from the National Academy of Sciences suggests that while “the United States if often parsed on a red versus blue dichotomy,” states may actually vary in terms of “tightness or looseness.”
Texas is one of the ten “tightest” states, meaning it has “many strongly enforced rules and little tolerance for deviance” – as do most other Southern states.
Read more about what these categories mean after the jump.Indicators used to determine tightness or looseness included the legality of corporal punishment in schools, the general severity of legal sentences, access to alcohol and availability of civil unions, level of religiosity, the percent of the population that is foreign and many more.
According to the study, the states that rank as being more restrictive on these factors tend to have a history of contending with comparatively more threats – ranging from severe weather to losing the Civil War.
From Mother Jones:
“Tighter societies generally have had to deal with a greater number of ecological and historical threats, including fewer natural resources, more natural disasters, a greater incidence of territorial threat, higher population density, and greater pathogen prevalence.
The “tight” states, it turns out, have higher death rates from heat, storms, floods, and lightning. (Not to mention tornadoes.) They also have higher rates of death from influenza and pneumonia, and higher rates of HIV and a number of other diseases. They have higher child and infant mortality. And then there's external threat: The South, in the Civil War, was defending its own terrain and its own way of life. Indeed, the researchers show a very strong correlation between the percentage of slave-owning families that a state had in the year 1860, and its “tightness” measurement today.
It makes psychological sense, of course, that regions facing more threats would be much more inward-looking and tougher on deviants, because basically, they had to buckle down. They didn't have the luxury of flowery art, creativity, and substance abuse.”
By defending against actual threats like natural disasters and disease, the theory claims, the “tight” states clamp down on anything that appears even slightly out of the norm whether or not it poses an actual threat. Basically, “tight” states are constantly overreacting. That's why “tight” states have higher incarceration and execution rates, lower circulation of pornographic magazines and more charges of employment discrimination. But on the flip side, they also have fewer patents and fewer fine artists, and are found to be less happy overall.
This paper is still a work in progress, but given how closely the “tightness” and “looseness” designations track with red states and blue states, the findings could have some important implications. Not only will they provide interesting insight into how people develop their political beliefs, but they could affect how we talk about and frame issues – especially in election years.