A couple of years ago, a reader called BLS wrote me a study of why obscure Dubois County in southern Indiana stands out above most of its seemingly similar neighbors. Now, Raj Chetty’s study confirms BLS’s observations: Dubois ranks 50th in the country out of 2,478 counties (and second in Indiana to Lagrange) for upward mobility among lower income kids, and 36th in the country (and third in Indiana, narrowly behind Pike and Spencer) for higher income kids, giving Dubois the Indiana all-around title.
Chetty isn’t very interested in these kind of apples to apples comparisons of neighbors. In his latest study, which includes useful data on families that moved counties, he imposes a limit of only looking at moves of over 100 miles. But long moves across the country are likely to be more idiosyncratic, for job and family reasons and the long run impact is likely to be hard to predict. In contrast, short moves are more likely to be the result of careful study of local options and much discussion with your friends.
Unlike many rural counties that did well in Chetty’s rankings by, apparently, shedding population as farm productivity increases, allowing the surviving winners to make more money, Dubois has been growing steadily if unspectacularly in population in each Census for a century. It’s currently 92% white, with Hispanics making up the most of the rest.
Importantly, in the 2000 Census, “64.7% were of German and 15.8% American [i.e., Scots-Irish] ancestry.”
Reader BLS has written a thick description of the roots of why Dubois county stands out above other counties in Indiana.
I am writing you from the Hoosier state about something that you may find interesting. I have followed you on Takimag, and from there have found hbdchick, and others in the hbd blogosphere. For years I had proclivities to believe that genetics played a greater role in our lives than modern science wanted to admit. My basis for my original thinking was observing the people in the region of my upbringing in southern Indiana.
Southern Indiana has an interesting cultural history best described in Richard F. Nation’s book At Home in the Hoosier Hills: Politics, Religion, and Economics 1810-1870. While this book covers 60 years of time which ended 143 years ago, I found that it’s thesis matched essentially the same cultural observations that I was noticing from my teens as a keen observer of cultural idiosyncrasies.
Southern Indiana was populated in a period beginning in the 1790s and first decade of the 1800′s leading to statehood in 1816. The earliest settlers were Scotch-Irish coming in from Appalachia, Virginians, Pennsylvanians of British extraction, followed by large German Catholic and German Lutheran populations in the 1830s through 1860s. As southern Indiana settled, the larger swath was made up of largely Protestant groups, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Restorationist Christians of the Cane Ridge revival of 1801. Not many Episcopalians.
In my estimate the denominations show that the settlers were clannish types willing to buck the established colonial hierarchy, just the types that would head west.
The Germans that came became very insular, finding small communities and making them theirs and being their own people. German was spoken in conversation and church into the early 1900s and in some places even into the 1950s, even though they spoke English and schooled in the language.
So, here are the observations I noticed over the years. The earliest Scotch-Irish and British (Anglo) settlers had a run of finding land and starting farms in the hill country. Of course that land to this day isn’t much for farming but better for livestock and remains relatively economically challenged. When the Germans came they found some of the best land, even though they were beaten to it by two decades. In those areas the farming is best, the communities successful, the people well off. Now this is observed in the fact that these areas of great degrees of economic and cultural differences are merely few miles apart. Essentially what I noticed and what is a long murmured joke is that Germans were successful wherever they went and made the area more successful based on the percentage of German majority. Anglo areas struggled and continue to, and both groups are just miles apart.
The mecca of this observation is Dubois County, Indiana. Dubois County was never French despite the name but was settled by Anglo cultures from the early 1800s. In the 1830s German Catholics came in force to farm and get into the abundant woods for wood working. They settled in the area that looks much like the Bavarian countryside they came from. By the 1850s Germans had populated the County in almost all parts while still living in places named by the predecessor Anglos. Jasper, Ireland, Haysville, Huntingburg, are predominantly German towns in this county.
So what is special about the place? The County is one of the richest in Indiana with more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in Indiana. The public high school sends nearly 95 percent of its students to some secondary education, and the other 5 percent are working in successful family businesses out of high school or leave for good.
Jasper the County seat has had two murders tried, one in the 1850s and one in the 1990s with it being family strife not robbery etc. Its local bank, the German American Bank, has one of the best ratings with the state bond bank.
Outsiders comment that the streets are cleaner than anywhere. The kids are well behaved, no rap music, baggy trousers etc. Community institutions are vibrant and flush with cash for various improvements. It has an arts center privately funded in a town of 10,000.
It however has no colleges (besides a satellite of Vincennes University) nor is it near any major interstates, airports, or rail ( the usual suspects in economic development studies for why places fail) It has the lowest teen pregnancy rate in the state and lowest welfare numbers. It’s only two drawbacks are that it has a higher than average suicide rate and some alcoholism issues (Germans like beer).
So what? Well, its neighboring Anglo counties are some of the poorest outside of our black inner cities. In almost all categories that Dubois County exceeds state averages in, their neighbors merely miles away exceed the state averages but in the opposite direction.
My hypothesis has been that Germanness matters. Is this cultural standards long developed that accept certain people and turn out others? Is it genetic, truly they have better genes, does Germanmess matter? Is it because they are homogenous in religion, ethnicity, and values? My guess is a delightful combination. I have always thought it was worth a deep study but I wouldn’t know who might want to even try it, or where to start. A relative recently became mayor of Jasper. He is only the second protestant mayor since 1835 and he is very German but Lutheran. I shared with him my thoughts and some of the work of you and your colleagues.
The interesting thing is that this is a difference of cultures within a small area and all white with very, very few minorities of any type in the area. This study would not involve race but ethnic background, homogeneity, and success vs. failure in people living in similar geographic and meteorological conditions.
Ultimately, I suggest that rural development and economic development dollars spent are many times wasted simply because of the ethnic background of the people. All over Indiana places where German ancestry is a higher percentage of the population the better the money is spent. Dubois County happens to be an oasis in a large desert, which would enhance the study’s efficacy, yes? The other key is that other rich predominantly white and European ethnically mixed areas of Indiana attract talent who search out the particular places, but Dubois continues success with very few move ins but with people cultivated from long family ties. Kids go to college but many come back unlike other dying rural areas where the smart kids move to Indianapolis or out of state.
What are your thoughts? Is there a study here? Would this be worth a look. I am certain of controversy but could the numbers speak for themselves?