Have we become a caste society? (Inequality gap as cultural, Charles Murray) | Margaret Wente | Jan. 28, 2012 | Globe and Mail

Inequality gap as upper class stable, lower class downward in cultural gap, says Charles Murray.   Top 20% and bottom 20% workers and children never meet.  Compare with Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of class distinction?

Inequality has soared, and that should worry everyone. […]

Now comes Charles Murray to lob a grenade into this progressive wishful thinking. His new book, Coming Apart … argues that the most important gap between the upper class and what we used to call the working class is no longer economic or social. It’s cultural.

As recently as the 1960s, he writes, people were united by a common understanding of “American values.” Just about everyone believed in marriage, two-parent families and hard work. But now, class values have dramatically diverged. “We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America,” he writes in The Wall Street Journal. “At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”

The differences go far deeper than a taste for Chablis versus two-fours. They extend to such basic matters as how you raise your kids and what it means to be a man.

To prove his case, Mr. Murray compares data from two fictitious neighbourhoods called Belmont and Fishtown.

  • Belmont is an upper-middle-class suburb of managers and professionals with university degrees.
  • The people who live in Fishtown have high-school diplomas and work blue-collar and low-skilled service jobs.

(To simplify matters, he limits his analysis to the white population.) In 1960, nearly every midlife adult in both towns was married – 94 per cent in Belmont, 84 per cent in Fishtown. “Then came the great divergence.”

  • Today the marriage rate in Belmont is 83 per cent, while the marriage rate in Fishtown has slid to 48 per cent.
  • The same thing happened to nonmarital births. In 1960, just 2 per cent of all white births in the U.S. were to unmarried women.By 2008, the nonmarital birth rate among the well-educated women of Belmont had grown to just under 6 per cent. In Fishtown, it was 44 per cent.

No matter how loath we are to stigmatize single lower-class mothers, the outcomes for their children are generally grim. So are the outcomes for men who are detached from the work force. In 1968, only 3 per cent of men in either Belmont or Fishtown were out of the labour force. By 2008 (before the onset of the recession), it had grown to 12 per cent in Fishtown, while in Belmont it hadn’t changed at all. Mr. Murray argues that the main cause of high male unemployment in Fishtown is not the scarcity of low-skilled work, but the erosion of the work ethic.  […]

Today, the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent seldom cross paths (except at Tim Hortons). They raise their kids in different ways, send them to different schools, eat different kinds of food, choose different forms of exercise and recreation, take different kinds of vacations. The top 20 per cent include virtually all of the people who run our governments, manage our businesses and set our social policies. But fewer and fewer of them know anybody in the bottom 20 per cent, or have much idea of how they think and live.

This class divide has become self-perpetuating, argues Mr. Murray. (He doesn’t discuss Canada’s vibrant immigrant classes, where social mobility is as strong as ever.) One reason is that most people choose mates from the same educational level. “The formation of the new upper class has been driven by forces that are nobody’s fault and resist manipulation,” he writes. “The economic value of brains in the marketplace will continue to increase no matter what, and the most successful of each generation will tend to marry each other no matter what. As a result, the most successful Americans will continue to trend toward consolidation and isolation as a class.” [editorial paragraphing added]

Surfaced as “Have we become a caste society?” | Margaret Wente | Jan 28, 2012 | The Globe and Mail at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/have-we-become-a-caste-society/article2318042/.

Cited article (with upcoming book) as “The New American Divide” | Charles Murray | Jan. 21, 2012 | Wall Street Journal at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204301404577170733817181646.html

Book Review as “Values Inequality” | W. Bradford Wilcox | Jan. 31, 2012 | Wall Street Journal at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181750916067234.html

Book review as “A Lightning Road in the Storm Over America’s Divide” | Jennifer Schuessler | Feb. 5, 2012 | New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/books/charles-murrays-coming-apart-the-state-of-white-america.html

Charles Murray, author of “Coming Apart,” in Burkittsville, Md., his home for two decades.  (New York Times)

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