Does region still matter?: analysis of changing social attitudes among Southerners and nonSoutherners, 1972-2012




Moore, Thomas R.

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The purpose of this project is to explore whether regionalism --specifically southern distinctiveness-- persists in the contemporary US. While this was a popular area of study prior to and through the 1980s, the topic of regionalism has largely disappeared from the contemporary sociological landscape with only a handful of exceptions. The present study uses pooled data from the NORC General Social Surveys to explore the persistence and/or change of white southern distinctiveness by examining attitudes toward African American inequality, the role of government in helping the poor, homosexuality and civic tolerance. The paper first discusses theoretical causes for declining southern distinctiveness. These potential causes are largely guided by Durkheim's Division of Labor. Briefly, as society advances, increased interdependence on others from different backgrounds along with increased mobility challenges the value of regional culture and attitudes. In this environment, holding onto regional culture may hinder full and effective participation in society therefore leading to a decline in southern distinctiveness. In spite of this, there are a number of tools which may work to maintain regional differences. Namely, the southern culture, with an "insularity of mind", cultural carriers like religion and family, may all work together to maintain that characteristics that make the southern region stand out. The paper also considers how cohort and period effects may vary in influence by region thus working to potentially challenge and maintain regional distinctiveness. The study uses the cumulative 1972-2012 GSS dataset in the exploration of how the American south has or has not remained distinct. Estimating appropriate regression models, differences between southerners and nonsoutherners are explored. Also recognizing the potential influence of migration in or out of a South the study also considers how residents new to the South and Nonsouth differ from native nonsoutherners. This permits the opportunity to see whether or not and to what degree early socialization matters. Additionally, the models also consider cohort and year effects in order to better demonstrate the nuance of regional distinctiveness and its change over time. The findings indicate a number of valuable outcomes which will be discussed in detail. First, the results of all of the models suggest that region still matters. In short, even when controlling for various effects, southerners continue to indicate more socially conservative attitudes than nonsoutherners. Additionally, contact with the South, be it as a child or as an adult, is also associated with indicating attitudes that are more congruent with native southerners than native nonsoutherners. The findings show that the effects of migration on social attitudes are nuanced and may vary depending upon the social attitude being examined. Last, the result from the study show that in spite of continued regional distinctiveness, there is some evidence that southern and nonsouthern attitudes on a number of social issues may be slowly converging. Though far from the rapid convergence some may have proposed two decades ago, this is slow and with its own qualifications.


The author has granted permission for their work to be available to the general public.


American South, Regional bias