Charles Murray writes about the NEW American Divide

CHARLES MURRAY (THAILAND 1965–67) HAS a new book. Murray, who I think is our foremost conservative RPCV, (but I don’t know all of them!) writes books about how the U.S. economy (and all of us) are going to hell in a handbag. A few of his books are entitled: murray-chasLosing Ground, Cox and Murray, Inc. 1988; The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, with Richard J. Herrnstein, The Free Press, 1994; What it Means to be a Libertarian: A Personal Interpretation, Broadway, 1997.

Now he has written Coming Apart:The State of White America, 1960–2010 that Crown Forum is publishing on the last day of this month. I am sure it is already in Politics & Prose if you live in Washington, D.C., or your local Barnes & Noble — as well as on Amazon.

coming-apartIt, too, predicts the coming of the end for what “once was America” and he does a good job marshaling his information and presenting his ideas. There was a long excerpt of the book in the Wall Street Journal on January 21–22. The subhead to the front page review reads: “The idea of an ‘American way of life’ is fading as the working class falls further away from institutions like marriage and religion and the upper class becomes more isolated.”

He focuses his material (and this is what he is really good at as a writer of dry topics) on two “fictional” neighborhoods; one is Belmont (after the archetypal upper-middle-class suburb near Boston) and Fishtown (a neighborhood in Philadelphia that has been home to the white working class since the Revolution).

Next, he focuses on the age population of 30 to 49 in both places.

This is a little of what he has to say.

People are starting to notice the great divide. The tea party sees the aloofness in a political elite that thinks it knows best and orders the rest of America to fall in life. The Occupy movement sees it in an economic elite that lives in mansions and flies on private jets. Each is right about an aspect of the problem, but that problem is more pervasive than either political or economic inequality. What we now face is a problem of cultural inequality.

Then . . .

Over the past 50 years . . . we have developed a new upper class with advanced education, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.

What  really troubles Charlie Murray is marriage and parenthood, or the lack of it, I should say. In 1960 he writes, “extremely high proportions of whites in both Belmont and Fishtown were married. In 1970, those percentages declined about equally in both places. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage stabilized during the mid-1980s, standing at 83% in 2010. In Fishtown, however, marriage continued to slide; as of 2010, a minority (about 48%) were married.

Add to that single parenthood. Murray writes, “Though politicians and media eminences are too frightened to say so, nonmarital births are problematic.”

In 1960, just 3% of all white births were non-marital. By 2008, 44% were non-marital in Fishtown, but among college-educated women of Belmont, less than 6% of all births were out of of wedlock as of 2008, up from 1% in 1970.

Murray is loaded with facts and figures for the last 50 years. It is scary reading. Or as we used to say: The Future is not what it used to be!

What Charles Murray is finally saying is that the real problem is because poor white people aren’t going to church, nor supporting their traditional institutions. Among the upper middle class, people are getting married, having stable lives, going to college. And the white working class, well, they have little eduction, less skills, are raising kids outside of marriage, and not going to church.

The answer is not the government or policies, but we can change these conditions. Murray says:

The only thing that can make a difference is the recognition among Americans of all classes that a problem of cultural inequality exists and that something has to be done about it . . .. The “something” that I have in mind has to be defined in terms of individual American families acting in their own interests and the interest of their children.

Murray sums up in this piece, “If enough Americans look unblinkingly at the nature of their problem, they’ll fix it. One family at a time. For their own sakes. That’s the American way.”


Leave a comment
  • Oh Wow…is this a wake-up call from Murray? Looks like great reading, now how do we get this into the hands of those that can make a difference? Thanks John…will share with my Colombian friends. Bob

  • I wonder what he would have found if he had selected two towns from ‘middle America,’ or maybe two parts of Louisville, Nashville or Omaha? We here in western Kentucky believe that life on the coasts is very different than it is here. We don’t have an elite (big money, highly educated, generations in place, etc) in the way that Boston or Philadelphia does. Church membership is a major factor here, but not at all in vogue on the coasts (according to my children in CA and my former classmates in Boston or NY). And, what would he recommend to fix it? We could always saw off the two coasts and let them float out to sea.

  • I have not read this book by Murray. But I recognized the picture of Philadelphia. Evidently, I was born in his Fishtown! Although I lived there as a very little girl, years before 1960, I think Charlie’s way off.
    Fishtown was the hometown of Chris Matthews, Charles Bradley,
    Bill Cosby and American Bandstand. The upward mobility train was an express running through Philadelphia in those days, fueled by the GI Bill.

    To get a handle on Murray, I googled him. He was born in Iowa, undergrad at Harvard and Ph.D. at M.I.T. Back in those days, Ivy League colleges had a quota for those who were “Geographically Desirable” an attempt to diversify their student body. I think this is how Cheney got to Yale and it may have been a factor in how Murray got to Harvard. Murray fits his own definition of “elite”…he lives outside of DC and works for a think tank…but I don’t know what he does with “Iowa.”

  • Hey, Come on! Are you suggesting that I got into Yale (twice yet, 1951 and 1969) because I came from ‘geographically desireable’ Maine and not because I was such a desireable admitee? Hmmm, maybe you are right, come to think of it..

  • I guess George W Bush was admitted to Harvard’s MBA program because he was from Texas. By the way, Bush was our only president who had an MBA.

    As for sawing off the two coasts, I have two thoughts: First, after having crossed this favored land by plane, bus, train, car and motorcycle I still hold with my original reaction, the Midwest begins at the Cumberland Gap and ends at the Donner Pass. Second, I have always considered New Yorkers, and I mean New York City, to be the “real” Americans.

  • New Yorkers as real Americans! I’m gonna have to give that some serious thought. (I must confess that I ‘failed’ NYC during my 6 month’s residence there.)

  • It is Philadelphia that is the hometown of Chris Matthews, Charles Bradley, Bill Cosby and American Bandstand. Fishtown is just one neighborhood of Philadelphia.

  • Bush went to Yale as a Legacy. I think that the attempt to create geographic diversity in the Ivy Leagues….and I know of this only anecdotally….focused on the midwest and far west.

  • Murray was on Bill Bennet’s radio show “Morning in America” this am. Murray’s solution to the great divide is that the upper middle class (not the liberal elities…but then I get confused as to what is upper middle and lower upper, and rich but not liberal,etc.) should teach the working class to get married before they have children.

    I found this helpful.

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