Marriage, work and religion

Charles Murray has an article in The New Criterion previewing his upcoming book. Read the whole thing, obviously. Murray is most concerned that society is dividing by intelligence (this was also the point of The Bell Curve, but everyone was too scandalized to notice).

Some excerpts:

America has never been a classless society. From the beginning, rich and poor have usually lived in different parts of town, gone to different churches, and had somewhat different manners and mores. It is not the existence of classes that is new, but the emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values—classes that barely recognize their underlying American kinship.
To make this case, I use data based exclusively on non-Latino whites (hereafter just “whites”) as a way of focusing attention on the nature of the problem. We are not dealing with problems caused by ethnic inequalities. I also focus on people ages 30–49, adults in the prime of life, to strip away complications associated with young adults who are delaying marriage and older adults who are retiring earlier than they used to.

To represent the classes at the two ends of the continuum, I give you two fictional neighborhoods that I hereby label Belmont (after an archetypal upper-middle-class suburb near Boston) and Fishtown (after a neighborhood in Philadelphia that has been white working class since the Revolution).

. . .

In 1960, extremely high proportions of whites ages 30–49 in both Belmont and Fishtown were married—94 percent in Belmont and 84 percent in Fishtown. The unquestioned norm in both neighborhoods was marriage. In the 1970s, those percentages declined about equally in Belmont and Fishtown. Then came the great divergence. In Belmont, marriage among prime-age adults stabilized during the mid-1980s and remained flat thereafter, standing at 83 percent in 2010. In Fishtown, marriage continued a slide that had not slackened as of 2010, when the percentage of married whites ages 30–49 had fallen to a minority of 48 percent.

. . .

The primary indicator of the erosion of industriousness is the increase of prime-age males with no more than a high school education who say they are not available for work—they are “out of the labor force,” in the jargon. That percentage went from a low of 3 percent in 1968 to 12 percent in 2008, rising steadily during the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s when the labor market had plentiful blue-collar jobs available for anyone who wanted to work.

. . .

But in 1960, crime was low and the existing differences between Belmont and Fishtown did not impinge on daily life. The real Fishtown in Philadelphia, for example, was an extremely safe place to live in the 1950s (as we know both from a contemporaneous sociological study of the real Fishtown and the living memory of those who grew up in Fishtown in those years). Doors were routinely left unlocked. Children were allowed to play unwatched by their own parents, who knew that neighbors were keeping an eye on them. In the rare instances when a crime did occur, the people of Fishtown knew where to look for the offenders, and often dealt with them without bothering to call the cops.

The surge in crime that began in the mid-1960s and continued through the 1980s left Belmont almost untouched and ravaged Fishtown. From 1960–95, the violent crime rate in Fishtown more than sextupled. When we can first break out imprisonment rates in 1974 (after crime had already been increasing for a decade), there were 215 imprisoned Fishtowners for every 100,000 persons ages 18–65. By the time of the most recent survey of prison inmates in 2004, that number had grown to 965. The comparable figures for Belmont were infinitesimal and flat (13 in 1974, 27 in 2004).

The data on the super-successful are also interesting:

I assembled data for fourteen such elite urban and suburban areas. In the aggregate, their median family income went from $84,000 to $163,000 dollars between 1960 and 2000, and the percentage of adults with BAs rose from 26 percent to 67 percent.

. . .

I created an index that combined median income and the percentage of college graduates for all the nation’s zip codes and ranked those zip codes from top to bottom on the index. By the time that graduates of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale have reached their 40s, almost half of them live in the zip codes that ranked in the top 5 percentiles of zip codes—an extraordinary finding, when you remember that I did not select the successful members of those classes. The Westchesters and Winnetkas of America are not only populated by a much higher proportion of college graduates than in 1960, but by a population that is disproportionately loaded with the cognitively talented and those who have been socialized in elite schools.

. . .

Our propensities do sever us, and the new upper class shows no inclination to reach out across the widening divide. And so the unraveling of the civic culture in Fishtown occurs without the knowledge or the concern of Belmont, let alone with any attempt by Belmont to assist the people of Fishtown who are still trying to do the right thing. Fishtown is flyover country, or those ugly suburbs that the people of the new upper class view from afar as they drive from their enclave in Greenwich to their office in midtown Manhattan.


17 Responses to Marriage, work and religion

  1. Handle says:

    Shorter Murray, “The Bell Curve goes Bimodal“.

  2. dearieme says:

    In ca 1980 my then Section Head had just returned to Britain after a few years working in the USA. “What did you make of it, Jeff?” I asked. After a short reflection he said “I’d hate to be poor in America”. I suspected that he was contrasting the US in 1980 with what he thought had been true of the US two or three decades earlier. Seems he may have been right.

  3. rightsaidfred says:

    the new upper class shows no inclination to reach out across the widening divide.

    I wonder what “reaching out” would entail. Never before in history have we had so much tax money and social programs dedicated to “reaching out”. Modern media has countless good examples to contrast with the pathological. What more can be expected?

    Modern industry and distribution has given us a multitude of drugs and welfare programs to overwhelm any example or resource transfer the new upper class could contribute.

    • josh says:

      They could reach out and slap some sense into the chavs.

    • Foseti says:

      I think Murray is referring to the old sort of reaching out – private charity and assistance. If anything, welfare programs seem to undermine these sorts of reaching out

      • asdf says:

        There’s something more. Its not just money and resources. Those are important. Its also culture.

        The upper classes have the IQ and time orientation to handle certain social norms. They can have libertine sexual mores and still end up getting married and raising children in wedlock. They can have access to drugs while remaining casual users rather then addicts. They can go to a casino and keep to a budget rather then blow junoirs college fund.

        The list of things high IQ people can handle that low IQ people can’t goes on and on. To a certain extent the upper classes should “noblesse up” and just accept giving up some of their freedoms in the name of providing a good example to the lowers.

        However, that assumes that the upper classes are stable, rather then a darwinian struggle for power themselves in which exploiting proles is the easiest way to gain entrance and increase power.

      • Handle says:


        Well said. A good physical analogy is whenever you see some naturally athletic person advocate for effectiveness of the latest diet, fitness, or exercise fad, “Look at me! It works!”.

        Of course it works for you – you’re a natural athlete. You have the genetics, metabolism, energy-level, pain-threshold, discipline, etc. – the general biological and behavioral predisposition – to be thin and vigorous no matter what stupid program you adopt.

        That doesn’t mean it will work for everybody – or even the vast majority of people – because people are radically different. The average diet or fitness fad fails for the average person because it requires something they do not possess. They work for people who don’t need them, and they don’t work for people that do.

        You would need to completely change the cultural dynamic of various social pressures that creates utterly different incentives – and modifies behaviors accordingly – to help these people.

        The upper classes can both handle and afford a radically free and secular lifestyle and still achieve a great deal of personal success and transmit those successful patterns to their offspring. The lower classes cannot.

        One of three things happens – either the Upper allow the Lower to decompose into chaos through indifference, or they permit and overtly encourage distinct cultures (sustainable?), or through a sense of noblesse-oblige that they pay lip-service and publically act in accordance with the cultural norms and folkways most likely to be beneficial to the Lower (even if they depart from those norms in private)

        We’ll see which one we get. Murray says we’re getting #1.

      • More Anon says:

        @asdf: “The list of things high IQ people can handle that low IQ people can’t goes on and on. To a certain extent the upper classes should “noblesse up” and just accept giving up some of their freedoms in the name of providing a good example to the lowers.”

        To echo another comment: the problem is that the upper class now exerts its “noblesse oblige” in a way that benefits from and generates more dysfunction among the underclass.

        They laud transgressive morality and they praise single mothers. Then they lament how poor broken families are and set up NGOs to help fight child poverty.

        It’s that iatrogenic cycle Moldbug talks about.

    • Handle says:

      I think what Murray means by “reaching out” is the attempt to keep the class-bridging macro-cultural fabric well knit instead of accelerating the fraying into incompatible, rigid, distinct, and rival antagonistic castes. To ensure more reciprocal loyalty, “empathy”, and frequent interaction instead of total-lifecycle insulation and segregation bordering on formal class apartheid.

      My sense of things (consistent with Robert Putnam’s work) is that genuine social capital is quite fragile and difficult to maintain among non-homogenous populations. Diversity is weakness.

      It takes certain social preconditions combined with conscious effort, participation in various “common mixing institutions”, encouragement of assimilation, and perhaps government intervention to foster cohesion and an alignment of interests, and preserve that sense that “we’re all on the same team, we’re all in this together”. I think the phenomena Murray is describing is the very opposite of that – symptoms of an emerging social pathology.

      But the question remains, “What is anyone going to do about it?” and if nothing, “What happens next?”

      • josh says:

        Good point. This problem goes hand in hand with the death of local elites, which goes hand in hand with the removal of the ability of local institutions, churches, men’s social clubs, chambers of commerce, etc. from influencing the public sphere, which goes hand in hand with the centralization of a single bureaucratic power and the atomization of individual life in the country. The decline of noblesse oblige may be mainly a factor of social distance.

        It’s also a fact that our particular form of noblesse is incredibly fucked up. If you look at the first half of the 20th century the left elite really did believe in uplifting the masses. Unfortunately, the use of bureaucratic social control as a tool led to what were really political battles disguised as social welfare programs. They were also overly ambitious and unchecked by reality. For example, the idea of tapping into the “latent potentialities” of man by designing houses and cities as “living machines” was not only batshit crazy in practice it was simply used to destroy local parishes which formed the local (Catholic) political machines that were the historical enemies of progressive minded elites. They did however, create a cutlure in the 1930s where middle class Americans loved Jean Sibelius.

        The worst thing about our elite today is that after so many decades of flattering the public, they refuse to even admit that they are the elite. Rather than uplift, they invite Common to the White House thus deeming him a poet of at least minor historical import.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Murray “Americans have formed a new lower class and a new upper class”


    Progressives formed and deliberately multiplied a new underclass, and then set to work dragging as many as possible towards it.

  5. rightsaidfred says:

    But the question remains, “What is anyone going to do about it?” and if nothing, “What happens next?”

    Part of what is happening is a kind of natural selection. If the latest diet sucks, those with a resistance will do better and propagate a bit more. If birth control becomes widespread, only those with some kind of resistance to that will propagate. If we’re flooded with pathological levels of drugs and pornography, those with some kind of natural resistance will do better.

  6. Abelard Lindsey says:

    This may or may not prove to be a problem.

    Do consider that Murray predicted the emergence of a white underclass in a magazine article in 1993, with all of the social pathologies (crime, violence, etc.) that we seen in NAM neighborhoods. So far, this prediction has yet to materialize.

    If anything, social pathology has declined in the last 20 years. Crime (both violent and non-violent) has declined, So has teen pregnancy and substance abuse. Contrary to common thought, promiscuity has declined as well (the kids are doing IT less these days). There is evidence that promiscuity among gays is declining as well.

    • David says:

      I see signs of hope as well. The determination of evangelical Christians to become involved in politics is, I think, a very good sign. I think we will soon see an end to the third-world immigration which has been depressing the wages of the working class. When working class men earn enough money to support families, we will see the numbers on marriage and fatherless children improve as well. I see signs of a shift in the way our society sees these problems. There are a lot of popular shows on television that show working class men in a positive light–Axemen, Swamp Loggers, Most Dangerous Catch, Gold Rush–almost too many to name really. People are waking up to the fact that what our ruling elites have been doing to the working class is an injustice which must be rectified.

  7. PA says:

    What is the dynamic that lets Murray remain relevant while James Watson is a non-entity?

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