Where does your state score on tightness-looseness?
The 10 tightest states are Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The 10 loosest are California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Vermont. Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Nebraska and Minnesota fall in the middle. From these rankings, regional patterns emerge: The South is tightest, the West and Northeast are the most loose, and the Midwest is in the middle.
As with nations, states that have faced significant threat throughout their histories are much tighter than those that have enjoyed relative safety. A map of the states that have suffered the most natural disasters coincides closely with our U.S. map of tightness-looseness: Tight states have higher death rates from heat, storms, floods, lightning, and tornadoes, as well as higher rates of disease threats and food insecurity. Similarly, it’s not surprising that southern states who felt their existence threatened during the Civil War tightened up and remain tight to this day. These are not the only factors that explain states’ levels of tightness. Centuries ago when people settled in different states, they transferred tight or loose norms from their own countries.
Tightness-looseness provides a new metric on which to understand the 50 U.S. states. As you might expect, tight-loose relates to things like conservative or liberal attitudes in predictable ways. But it provides a far deeper way to understand the culture of the 50 states and why they vary. It also can help us to identify the unique benefits — and liabilities — that tightness and looseness each bring to business competitiveness. This is what I’ve called the tight-loose trade-off: Tight states have a high degree of order, while loose states have a lot of openness.
More from America's Top States for Business:
See where your home state ranked in 2018
America's best states to live in
The 10 best states for job seekers
Analyzing data from over a half million American residents we found that people in tight states are more likely to rank high on a personality trait psychologists call “conscientiousness; and they are more likely to be self-disciplined rule followers who desire structure.
Highly organized, careful, and reliable, they tend to agree with statements such as, “I see myself as someone who is a reliable worker,” as someone who “makes plans and follows through with them,” and as someone who “does things efficiently.” People in tight states also have been found to have greater self-control than those in loose states. They’re less rude to people (my home state of New York ranked the highest in rudeness!) and are better at regulating their behavior: they have less debt and have lower illicit drug use and binge drinking. They also show other signs of traditional social order — such as lower divorce, mobility, and homelessness relative to loose states.
Loose states may have less self-control and order overall, but they have their own suite of advantages. As compared to tight states, people in loose states are more likely view themselves as original, curious, deep thinkers, and imaginative — all indications of a personality trait known as “openness.” They are also much more tolerant. A wide array of indicators at the state level, from hate crime incidents to level of religious tolerance, are strongly related to our rankings of looseness.
Using survey data from more than 2,000 Americans, we also found that people in loose states are more accepting of interracial marriages and harbor more positive attitudes toward homosexuals. Loose states have higher percentages of minority-owned and female-owned firms, more representation of women and minorities in public office, and stronger legal protections for traditionally stigmatized groups, including people with mental illness. They also have far fewer discrimination claims. Meanwhile, tight states are less open to new ideas and to diversity.