Yankees, Irish Catholics and the McCain Belt

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One of the implicit assumptions of a book like Albion’s Seed is the “First Settler Effect,” (FSE) whereby the groups which originally settle a region have a disproportionate effect on its cultural character in perpetuity. Obviously there are boundary conditions, the first settlers might be totally replaced demographically rapidly, or, superseded by a cultural complex which views itself as dominant and superior. But in the cased of the United States the best illustration of FSE is linguistic dialect. In New England the tendency to drop the final “r” in words like “car” (non-rhoticity) is a South English linguistic development, and is traced to the East Anglia bias of the original Puritan settlers. This tendency is today strongest in the regions around Boston. Of course, this is probably the area where the Irish Catholics overwhelmed the Yankee Protestants to the greatest extent, showing the strength of FSE (“r” was kept longer, or, is, in Irish and Scottish English, making the illustration of FSE symmetrically persuasive in this case).

But many of the arguments in favor of FSE are rather impressionistic. They are impressions filtered through the eyes of historians, though sometimes they are backed up by quantitative data (New England remains the smartest American region, as it was in 1700). Luckily for us, New England is one of the Census Divisions in the GSS, and so one can explore the differences between Protestants and Catholics, which would roughly map onto the division between original stock and later white ethnic immigrants, and compare them to the McCain Belt whites. Like New England, the East South Central Division of the GSS regions is nice and compact, and correspondences with a relatively homogeneous cultural area.

What are the religious breakdowns of New Englanders?

Religion %
Protestant 30.2
Catholic 53.8
Jewish 3.9
None 11.9

This looks about right checking with the Pew Religious Survey. I’m not totally sure about the representativeness of the GSS in terms of within New England balance, but since I’m interested in comparing New England Protestants and Catholics and McCain Belt whites I’m not too worried.

Earlier I said that the proportion of people with “No Religion” in New England probably was going to be disproportionately Yankee. I’m not so sure. The two tables below have rows which add up to 100% for religion and ancestry respectively.

% Protestant % Catholic % None
England & Wales 33.6 4.4 14.9
Germany 13.7 3.9 7.0
Ireland 9 24.1 19.1
Italy 3.7 21.1 9.5
Scotland 6.9 1.3 5.7
French Canada 4.9 17.8 5.8
% England & Wales % Ireland % Italy % Scotland % French Canada
Protestant 70.8 15.1 7.9 60.5 12.3
Catholic 17 73.4 82.3 20.1 81.9
None 11.1 11.3 2.7 17.5 5.2

If the Irish and English & Welsh are the canonical white ethnics vs. Yankees, it seems secularization hit them both to the same extent. Since 88% of whites in the East South Central Division are self-identified Protestant, I won’t even give a breakdown by religion for that region. From now on I’ll refer to Yankee for Protestant New Englander, and White Ethnic, for Catholic New Englander, and the McCain Belt. Remember that I’m excluding those who put religion down as “None” for New England.
Instead of an impression based on impressions, I went through the GSS and looked at a host of variables. Some of them might not be surprising to you (WORDSUM score), and some of them more so (# of sex partners since 18). The point was to collect a lot of disparate data, spanning explicit and implicit cultural markers. I tried excluding any question where N was smaller than 100 for any category, though some of the questions have N’s bigger than 1,000. On some characters New Englanders cluster together against McCain Belt Whites. On other characters Yankees and McCain Belt Whites custer together against White Ethnics. Finally, there are cases where White Ethnic cluster with McCain Belt whites against Yankees. In many (most it seems to me) cases the pattern seems to be McCain Belt Whites at one end, Yankees at the other, and White Ethnics in the middle, and more often than not, closer to Yankees than McCain Belt Whites.
The cases where the White Ethnics are outgroups can I think be chalked up to aspects of Roman Catholicism and the immigrant culture which make them unique vis-a-vis the other two groups, who are old line Protestant stock. Sometimes, as in abortion on demand, I suspect that the White Ethnics are more conservative than Yankees because of their Catholicism, but they still remain more liberal than McCain Belt conservatives. On the balance, I would say that FSE is plausible and supported by these data, even though Yankees did not turn White Ethnics into Catholic Yankees, they did change their outlook or standard reference point a considerable amount (i.e., they may be socially conservative and emphasize education to a lower extent than Yankees, but they are far more liberal and more educated than McCain Belters. In some cases it seems likely that White Ethnics and Yankees evolved together over time as one regional culture, so I don’t know if one can say that similarities are always due to FSE as such, though I would argue that contingency means that the original Yankee culture loaded the die in turns of future developmental paths.
A little history is warranted at this point. Around 30,000 whites settlers arrived in New England during the 17th century, but 75% arrived in the period between 1630-1640. Most of the derives from this decade and entered into a period of population growth unrivaled in the New World. The next major wave of immigrants were of course the Catholic Irish. Italians and Quebecois are also significant segments of the White Ethnic population. In sharp contrast to the Puritans, who were screened for education and skills to produce the world’s first universal literacy middle class society, the white ethnics came from contexts where they were much lower on the social ladder. The Irish and Italians were classical European peasant populations who lacked the bourgeois sensibilities of the Puritans.
In the McCain Belt the dominant ethnicity is Scots-Irish, broadly construed. They generally arrived in the 18th century into the port of Philadelphia and expanded through the Southern Uplands, driving all the way to the Gulf of Mexico by the early 19th century. A secondary element consisted of migrants from the Southern lowlands, from the Tidewater down to the Carolinas. From these groups the small planter minority emerged. But demographically the former are more important, and represent the heart of the McCain Belt white culture.

Collecting these data was tedious. I expect comments to not be tedious.

Clicking on any of the phrases below will result in an image of the chart below

Abortion On Demand, Affirmative Action, Aged Should Live With Children, Drinks Alcohol, Allow Anti-Religion Book in Library, Allow Anti-Religionist To Speak, Allow Communist To Speak, Allow Doctors To Assist Death, Allow Racist Books In Library, Allow Racists To Speak, Amount Of Sex Within Last Year, Attendance (Religion), Ban Prayer In School, Beaten As Child Or Adult, Belief In Life After Death, Concern About Racial Issues, Confidence In Education, Confidence In Existence Of God, Confidence In Financial Institutions, Confidence In Military, Confidence In Organized Religion, Confidence In Science, Courts Dealing With Criminals, # Of Children, Disparate Racial Outcomes Inborn, Divorced, Educational Level, Ever Smoked, Extramarital Sex, Favor Law Against Interracial Marriage, Federal Income Tax Rate, Gun Permits, Had Affair While Married, Homosexuality Wrong, Hours Watching TV, How Fundamentalist, How Often Read Newspaper, How Often Spend Evenings With Relatives, How Often Spend Time With Neighbors, How Often You Pray, Human Evolution, Hunt?, Ideal Number Of Children, Life Exciting?, Liking For England, Liking For Israel, Birth Control For Teens, Make Divorce Laws Easier, Males Who Have Paid For Sex, Marijuana Legal, Marital Status, Marriage Happy, Money Spent On Blacks, Money Spent On Education, Money Spent On , Money Spent On Environment, Money Spent On Mass Transit, Money Spent On Military, Money Spent On National Parks, Money Spent On Roads, Money Spent On Space Program, Money Spent On , Mother Working Doesn’t Hurt Children, Own Or Rent, Owns Gun, People Can Be Trusted, People Are Selfish, Political Views, Vocab Score (rough proxy for intelligence), Seen Porn In Past Year, Sex Partners Since 18 Female, Sex Partners Since 18 Male, Spanking Appropriate, Threatened Within Gun Or Shot At, Warm Feelings Toward Jews, World Is Evil, Wrong To Cheat On Taxes, Years In Armed Forces



  1. Direct-Democracy in the McCain Belt: 
    *Creationism taught in schools. 
    *No free speech for atheists. 
    *Interracial marriage is banned.

  2. well, this is a white sample. but mccain belt blacks are all on board for those planks, so no worries.

  3. really? blacks think interracial marriage should be banned by law, too?

  4. yeah, obviously i messed that up. ‘tarding out :-)

  5. wouldn’t surprise me if black women were vociferously opposed to interracial marriage

  6. wouldn’t surprise me if black women were vociferously opposed to interracial marriage 
    i checked the GSS, not a big sex diff for interracial marriage questions for blacks, though the N’s were all small.

  7. ok, checked whites. looks like white women might be more opposed than men. the N’s are bigger, so prolly more trustworthy. i might credit this more with all the weird dating surveys which shows women are more race-conscious than men.

  8. The willingness to outlaw interracial marriage amongst the majority of McCain Belters certainly jumps out at you from these results.  
    What century are these people living in?

  9. Looking at the ‘Beaten as child or adult’ stat – It seems not to include people who have never been beaten up at all – probably a plurality.

  10. I get the distinct impression that the deep South is the most “oriental” part of America. Historically, their society was feudal, w/ an aristocratic elite owning most of the land, and consequently, the privileges of society. Hackett-Fischer actually discusses this at length in his book. Also, in the Scots-Irish settled areas, clan and extended families were very important. Is this not the same thing that the Middle-East is famous for today (Saudi royal family feudals, millenia-old tribal identities persist in Iraq, etc.).

  11. I get the distinct impression that the deep South is the most “oriental” part of America.  
    china and japan were arguably more meritocratic than europe for most of history. china you should know why, japan because the samurai class wasn’t very hereditary before 1600.

  12. I would agree that white ethnic Catholics (particularly in the Northeast) tend to be significantly better educated and more liberal than whites in the Deep South and Appalachia. 
    (On the other hand, it is worth remembering that like the latter, white ethnic Catholics in the northeast have been stereotyped as backward and racist, particularly in the late 1960s-early 1970s, but as late as the early 1990s.) 
    Northern white Catholics probably are more socially conservative (by temperament more than ideology) and slightly less educated than “Yankees” or northern WASPs, but that is a far cry from the ideological social conservatism (tied to fundamentalist Protestantism) and the significantly lower levels of education (measured by percent of the population who have attended college) of the “McCain Belt.” 
    As for blacks, I would guess that black people in general are more liberal than the general population on economic issues, but more conservative on social issues unrelated to race (e.g. gay marriage). Southern blacks are almost certainly more socially conservative than blacks in the Northeast or West Coast, but they are just as Democratic.

  13. patrick, 
    did you check my charts? they speak to some of what you are saying. also, you can confirm or refute your suppositions about black regional conservatism by checking the GSS.

  14. also, everyone please remember that i’m looking at *new england*. i’m not saying anything about white catholics in chicago, or philly, or new york.

  15. The next major wave of immigrants [to New England] were of course the Catholic Irish. Italians and Quebecois are also significant segments of the White Ethnic population. 
    The Portuguese are another major white ethnic group in New England, and being more recently arrived than the Irish, Italian etc. tend to hold onto their ethnic identity to a greater extent. My impression is that they are somewhat more conservative than the other groups. There also are many nonwhite Portuguese-speakers, and once again they seem to be a bit more conservative than other minorities. 
    Another point is that New England conservatism, whether Yankee or white ethnic, has more of a live-and-let-live character (I’m hesitant to say libertarian given all the baggage attached to that term) than you’ll see in places like the McCain belt. For example, New Englanders may find abortion personally abhorrent, but they don’t favor repealing Roe vs. Wade.

  16. Another point is that New England conservatism, whether Yankee or white ethnic, has more of a live-and-let-live character (I’m hesitant to say libertarian given all the baggage attached to that term) than you’ll see in places like the McCain belt. For example, New Englanders may find abortion personally abhorrent, but they don’t favor repealing Roe vs. Wade. 
    is this really true? i’m not sure our terminology is sophisticated enough to describe the difference and similarities of individualism & communitarianism regionally. i’d like to see data.

  17. Thanks. I looked at a sample and was surprised by how little difference there was on most items. Would it be possible to rank these on difference?

  18. Just another issue: the “Scots-Irish” demographic tends also to be geographically defined: Appalachia, the Ozarks, and a few neighboring flatland areas as far as Oklahoma.  
    These are poor, mostly rural and agricultural area, and by and large they’re not even the best agricultural areas. It’s possible to survive there, but hard to get ahead.  
    So whatever the original traits of the S-I were, they’ve also been shaped by rural poverty, and they’ve tended to miss out on progress. I think that that’s what Porky was pointing to above: Historically, their society was feudal, w/ an aristocratic elite owning most of the land, and consequently, the privileges of society. Hackett-Fischer actually discusses this at length in his book. Also, in the Scots-Irish settled areas, clan and extended families were very important.
    Conceivably there is a control group of Scots-Irish that settled in cities or in a more prosperous area. I know that migrants from Appalachia are an important factor in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, but I was thinking more of some S-I group which never did settle in Appalachian. It’s possible that they just merged with the English and disappeared as a recognizable group.

  19. What I was getting at was that clan/tribal identity is strong in most of the world, the exceptions being NW Europe, much of America, and Japan. In these societies, government is less corrupt, so people don’t need to rely on extended family so much. What’s curious is that America tends to attract immigrants known for possessing this clan/tribal mentality. Such groups as the Irish-Catholics, South Italians, East-Europeans (Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, etc.), Greeks, Armenians, Lebanese, Cubans, even the Chinese are some examples. The Mexicans are much the same way; I think Steve Sailer wrote about this. Of course, the Scots-Irish were the ones who started it. All these groups are known for emphasizing family/clan loyalty and distrusting higher authority.

  20. If I recall correctly, the first waves of Scots-Irish settlers came to New England in the early part of the 1700s, since they were Calvinists also. Apparently they did not fit in very well; the Bostonians were horrified at their behavior and considered them lewd and drunken; no doubt the Scots-Irish thought the Puritans a bunch of meddling killjoys. Subsequent waves of Scots-Irish came mainly to Pennsylvania where they were gently steered towards the frontier by the Quakers.  
    New Hampshire was the only New England state that had any sizable Scots-Irish population. And to this day New Hampshire is markedly different from its neighbors Vermont and Massachusetts in its live-free-or-die attitude.

  21. Some of the posters miss Hackett Fischer’s distinction between the Borderlands group and the gentry concerning social class. The gentry emphasized social distinctions and stratification. This is logical, since they came from southern England where the feudal system was most established and lasted the longest. They owned big tobacco plantations in VA, and when that played out and the cotton gin was invented they moved to the better land in the Deep South. 
    By contrast, the Borderlands folk were antagonistic to displays of class, since it went along with assertion of authority. A high income (and in principle advanced education) is fine, as long as you aren’t uppity. As Fischer notes, the areas populated from the Borderlands had the greatest income disparity of the four regions he considers. But poor people had “priiiiide” (no diphthong).  
    I think Fischer is correct in using the term Borderlands for the group, rather than Scots-Irish. Some of them were in Ireland for 100 years or so, but the formative experience was 500 years without continuous rule by either England or Scotland. No criminal justice system, no large towns, no universities.  
    I suspect that there are genes for some social traits such as deference to authority, and that 500 years was long enough for some selective migration. People who wanted social order left and people who preferred personal autonomy came in. The result, if not the mechanism, is potentially testable. 
    I’m strictly an amateur about this stuff, my only primary data being some families in rural North Louisiana I’ve looked into for a medical genetics question. Most of them arrived in a zone of wooded hills in the period 1840-1860. Some of their descendants are still living there, still attending the same small church founded in 1844. They can be traced back to the mountains of the Carolinas or Tennessee, and in a couple of cases to the Scots-Irish immigration. There’s a definite founder or cultural domination effect in that a few were middle class from southern England who intermarried with Borderlands people and became thoroughly enculturated. There’s a picture of one of the women from circa 1857. She’s a little nervous but to compensate she projects a certain boldness that’s definitely redneck. But her immigrant ancestor in the male line was born in Oxford in 1590.

  22. The McCain belt favors laws against interracial marriage, but are also the most in favor of removing racist books from libraries.

  23. The McCain belt favors laws against interracial marriage, but are also the most in favor of removing racist books from libraries 
    They are also most in favor of removing anti-religious laws. They are simply less averse to book-banning.

  24. I was looking at ‘Albion’s Seed’ and it seems to me that the evidence for FSE aren’t terribly strong. DHF presents several anecdotes about how people of non-WASP origin exhibit the folkways of the area where they settled but it doesn’t seem very convincing (e.g. Barry Goldwater, of partial Jewish descent, who grew up in Arizona, arguably on the Western edge of the Borderland area of settlement, is not really a typical Jew, not even a typical Jew from the West). In any case, the 4 folkways are hardly comparable; the Cavalier & Borderland zone did not attract many immigrants at all (except for Black slaves, whose culture differed very significantly); the Quakers were never numerically significant and they weren’t the dominant element in Pennsylvania, let alone in points further west. Regarding the Puritans influence on incoming immigrants, one wonders how different the Irish in Boston are from the Irish in New York or Philadelphia or Baltimore, and whether the difference is due to Puritan/Yankee input.

  25. The FSE appears to hold for Germans in the American South. Many Germans came to New Orleans after 1848 and in the middle of the 20th Cent. there were more German than French surnames in the NO telephne directory. But there was zip cultural influence. In Texas there are German names on the map (e.g. New Braunfels), but not even one morsel of saubraten. 
    In the families I’ve looked at, there are a couple of German immigrants in the late 18th Cent. By 1860, their children and grandchildren were living in the piney woods of North Louisiana, in a Borderlands culture. I have the impression that their descendants tended to have jobs that required some numerancy and methodical work habits (small-town storekeeper, bank executive). If there are alleles for this, and they can be traced back to the immigrants, there might be support for this observation. To the extent I know anything about their politics or lifestyles, they’re conventional for the region.

  26. The McCain belt favors laws against interracial marriage, but are also the most in favor of removing racist books from libraries. 
    I think that’s because they’re more likely than the other groups to support banning books (or disallowing free speech) of those they disagree with, not because of anything related to racism.

  27. Danny 
    You have to change the rules for the Cavaliers. The true gentry arrived during the period 1643-1670, roughly contemporaneous with the English Civil War and Governor Berkeley who strongly encouraged gentry immigration. There’s a canonical list in Fischer of the gentry circa 1700. They assimilated some individuals who didn’t start as gentry (e.g. Jefferson’s father). But they had a distinctive culture based on the idea of the independent gentleman who was conspicuously superior (expensive education, fine clothes, mansion with white columns, military service — as an officer, of course) but paid back the community with political leadership and promotion of good causes like colleges and universities.  
    But around 1750 the tobacco business went into decline and they wore out the soil near the coast so they moved inland. They intermarried with a whole new set of names that aren’t on the original list (Lewis, Meriwether, IIRC). Then the cotton gin was invented (1791) and the whole economy of VA collapsed, so they migrated, mostly to the Lower South where they pursued the same lifestyle gig with a different crop. People with no connection to the original gentry started putting up named mansions with white columns, throwing fancy balls and angling for seats in the legislature. I don’t know how the FSE applies here, but the cultural ideal spread like wildfire.