Eva's Reviews > Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Coming Apart by Charles Murray
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Jun 17, 2012

really liked it
Read in June, 2012

The first half of this book was amazing. The second half was meh--lots of abstract commentary and theorizing that didn't appeal to me. Some kindle notes:

food, a few Italian restaurants serving spaghetti and pizza, and a few restaurants with a French name, which probably meant that they had French onion soup on the menu. But if you were looking for a nice little Szechuan dish or linguine with pesto or sautéed fois gras, forget it. A Thai curry? The first Thai restaurant in the entire nation wouldn’t open for another eight years. Sushi? Raw fish? Are you kidding? - location 89

As of 1963, Americans continued to obey those norms with remarkable consistency. The percentage of births to single women, known as “the illegitimacy ratio,” had been rising worrisomely among Negroes (the only respectful word for referring to African Americans in 1963). But among whites, the illegitimacy ratio was only 3 percent, about where it had been throughout the century. Marriage was nearly universal and divorce was rare across all races. In the 1963 Current Population Survey, a divorced person headed just 3.5 percent of American households, with another 1.6 percent headed by a separated person. Nor did it make much difference how much education a person had—the marriage percentages for college grads and high school dropouts were about the same. Not only were Americans almost always married, mothers normally stayed at home to raise their children. More than 80 percent of married women with young children were not working outside the home in 1963.2 - location 102

Almost as many girls as boys had enrolled in college in the spring of 1963, - location 167

America didn’t have a lower class or an upper class in 1963. In the responses to a Gallup poll taken that fall, 95 percent of the respondents said they were working class (50 percent) or middle class (45 percent). A great many poor people were refusing to identify themselves as lower class, and a great many affluent people were refusing to identify themselves as upper class. Those refusals reflected a national conceit that had prevailed from the beginning of the nation: America didn’t have classes, or, to the extent that it did, Americans should act as if we didn’t. - location 186

A sexual revolution of some sort was inevitable by November 21, 1963. The first oral contraceptive pill had gone on the market in 1960 and its use was spreading rapidly. Of course sexual mores would be profoundly changed when, for the first time in human history, women had a convenient and reliable way to ensure that they could have sex without getting pregnant, even on the spur of the moment and with no cooperation from the man. A revolution of some sort in the fortunes of African Americans was inevitable. The civil rights movement had been intensifying for a decade and had reached its moral apogee with the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, which filled the Mall with a quarter of a million people and concluded with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The precise shape of the legislation and regulatory regime to implement the revolution were probably different under Johnson than they would have been under Kennedy, but momentum for major change in 1963 was already too great to stop. Something resembling the War on Poverty would probably have been proposed in 1964, no matter what. Michael Harrington’s The Other America had appeared in the spring of 1962 proclaiming that 40 to 50 million Americans were living in poverty, and that their poverty was structural—it would not be cured by economic growth. Kennedy had read the book, or at least some laudatory reviews of it, and ordered the staff work that would later be used by Johnson in formulating his War on Poverty. How many programs Kennedy could have actually passed is another question, but Harrington’s thesis was already being taken up by the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and would have become part of the policy debate even without the assassination. Other movements that would have sweeping impact on American society were already nascent in 1963. Early in the year, Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique, seen now as the opening salvo of the feminist movement. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring had appeared in 1962 and become a New York Times best seller, setting off public interest that would lead to the environmental movement. Ralph Nader had written his first attack on the auto industry in the Nation, and two years later would found the consumer advocate movement with Unsafe at Any Speed. The cultural landscape of the Sixties was already taking shape in 1963. Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”—all theme songs for what we think of as the Sixties—had been released six months before Kennedy died. In November 1963, the Beatles had played for the queen, were the hottest group in England, and were planning their first U.S. tour. - location 209

First, I do not argue that America was ever 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. - location 238

But in 1963 there was still no critical mass of the people who would later be called symbolic analysts, the educated class, the creative class, or the cognitive elite. In the first place, not enough people had college educations to form a critical mass of people with the distinctive tastes and preferences fostered by advanced education. In the American adult population as a whole, just 8 percent had college degrees. Even in neighborhoods filled with managers and professionals, people with college degrees were a minority—just 32 percent of people in those jobs had college degrees in 1963. - location 416

For an example of elite housing in 1963, download an episode of Mad Men that shows the Drapers’ suburban home—that’s the kind of house that the creative director of a major New York advertising agency might well have lived in. - location 439

Some members of the new upper class look upon fast food as an abomination and never, ever take their children to McDonald’s. For others, a Big Mac or Popeyes fried chicken is an occasional guilty pleasure, but hardly anyone in the new upper class approaches the about-once-a-week average of the rest of the population.12 - location 608

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about a third of American adults still smoke, but you wouldn’t know it if you hang out with the new upper class.13 - location 613

the average American watches about thirty-five hours of television per week.16 - location 632

The new upper class and mainstream America don’t take the same kind of vacations. Money comes into play here, but the vacations are also different in kind. For elite thirtysomethings who have not yet had children, the vacation might consist of backpacking into a remote lake in British Columbia or diving off Belize, whereas their age contemporaries in the working class and middle class already have children and are driving them to Disney World. Fortysomethings of the new upper class are likely to be attracted to a barge trip through Bordeaux or chartering a sailboat to cruise the Maine coast, not a trip to Las Vegas. New-upper-class and mainstream fiftysomethings might both choose to go on a cruise, but the new upper class would never consider booking a passage on one of the big liners with two thousand passengers. They take their cruise on a small all-suite ship accommodating just a hundred passengers, and it’s going to the Galápagos. - location 640

In 2006, the mean age at first birth among all American women with fewer than sixteen years of education was 23.0. The mean age for women with sixteen years of education was 29.5. The mean for women with seventeen or more years of education was 31.1. - location 691

In the early 1990s, Bill Gates was asked what competitor worried him the most. Goldman Sachs, Gates answered. He explained: “Software is an IQ business. Microsoft must win the IQ war, or we won’t have a future. I don’t worry about Lotus or IBM, because the smartest guys would rather come to work for Microsoft. Our competitors for IQ are investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.”1 - location 778

The analogy originated by sociologist Steven Goldberg helps keep things in perspective: For the professions, creative work, and the management of large and complex organizations, cognitive ability plays the same role in determining success that weight plays in determining the success of offensive tackles in the National Football League. The heaviest tackle is not necessarily the best. In fact, the correlation between weight and performance among NFL offensive tackles is probably quite small. But to have a chance of getting the job, you had better weigh at least 300 pounds.3 Similarly, the correlation of IQ scores with performance among those people who are attorneys, screenwriters, and biochemists is modest. But to be a top attorney, screenwriter, or biochemist, you have to be very smart in the ways that IQ tests measure. - location 790

the bigger the stakes, the greater the value of marginal increments in skills. In 1960, the corporation ranked 100 on the Fortune 500 had sales of $3.2 billion.4 In 2010, the 100th-ranked corporation had sales of $24.5 billion—almost an eightfold increase in constant dollars. That kind of supersizing in the corporate world occurred across the range—the corporation ranked 500 in 2010 was about eight times larger than the 500th-ranked corporation in 1960. The dollar value of a manager who could increase his division’s profitability by 10 percent instead of 5 percent escalated accordingly. - location 812

Real family income for families in the middle was flat. Just about all of the benefits of economic growth from 1970 to 2010 went to people in the upper half of the income distribution. - location 836

Other “poor” members of the new upper class are journalists, academics, and public intellectuals in general. David Brooks calls their plight status-income disequilibrium, - location 862

Cognitive stratification among colleges occurred extraordinarily fast.8 As of 1950, elite colleges did not have exceptionally talented student bodies. By 1960, they did. - location 915

The average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have placed in the bottom 10 percent of the incoming class by 1960. - location 931

Together, just 10 schools took 20 percent of all the students in the United States who scored in the top five centiles on the SAT or ACT. Forty-one schools accounted for half of them. All 105 schools, which accounted for just 19 percent of all freshmen in 1997, accounted for 74 percent of students with SAT or ACT scores in the top five centiles. - location 953

The Dominance of the Upper-Middle Class in Elite Schools The concentration of high-ability students wouldn’t be so bad if those students had only their ability in common. - location 982

79 percent of students at “Tier 1” colleges as of the 1990s came from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status, while only 2 percent came from the bottom quartile.16 - location 993

students with the same gender, race, and SAT scores are more than three times as likely to apply to a selective school if they come from one of those professional high-income families in the Northeast, and twice as likely if they come from a professional high-income family outside the Northeast.18 Other things being equal, Asians were almost twice as likely to apply as non-Asians, and students from private schools were four times more likely to apply than students at public schools.19 So the applicant pool is skewed. - location 1004

In 1960, just 3 percent of American couples both had a college degree. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25 percent. The change was so large that it was a major contributor to the creation of a new class all by itself. - location 1049

Educational attainment is correlated with IQ, but education does not have much effect on IQ after the child enters elementary school. - location 1061

statistical analysis will not show that the children who went to the expensive private schools got an IQ boost as a result. - location 1064

Another consequence of increased educational and cognitive homogamy is the increased tenacity of the elite in maintaining its status across generations. The adage “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” grew out of an observed reality: If the children and grandchildren are only average in their own abilities, money from a fortune won in the first generation won’t keep them at the top of the heap. When the parents are passing cognitive ability along with the money, the staying power of the elite across generations increases. - location 1118

the expected value of the IQ of a grown-up offspring is 40 percent toward the population mean from the parents’ midpoint IQ.35 - location 1128

Parents’ Educations Expected IQ of the Child Two high school dropouts 94 Two high school diplomas 101 Two college degrees (and no more) 109 Two graduate degrees 116 Two degrees from an elite college - location 1134

“During the late twentieth century, in other words, the well educated and the affluent increasingly segmented themselves off from the rest of American society.”4 They were reminded of a phrase coined by Robert Reich when he first described the new class of symbolic analysts back in 1991: “The secession of the successful.” - location 1195

As mature adults, fully a quarter of the HPY graduates were living in New York City or its surrounding suburbs. Another quarter lived in just three additional metropolitan areas: Boston (10 percent), Washington (8 percent), and San Francisco (7 percent). Relative to the size of their populations, the Los Angeles and Chicago areas got few HPY graduates—just 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Except for the Philadelphia and Seattle areas, no other metropolitan area got more than 1 percent. - location 1504

ceteris paribus, the higher the centile of the SuperZip, the more densely it is populated by graduates of elite colleges and, by extension, the more densely it is populated by overeducated elitist snobs. I encourage others to explore this hypothesis empirically. - location 1536

Many of the members of the new upper class are balkanized. Furthermore, their ignorance about other Americans is more problematic than the ignorance of other Americans about them. It is not a problem if truck drivers cannot empathize with the priorities of Yale professors. It is a problem if Yale professors, or producers of network news programs, or CEOs of great corporations, or presidential advisers cannot empathize with the priorities of truck drivers. - location 1762

I must ask you to serve as a source of evidence by comparing your own experience to my generalizations. This time, I have a twenty-five-question quiz for you to take.2 I hope it will serve two purposes: first, to calibrate the extent of your own ignorance (if any); second, to give you a framework for thinking about the ignorance that may be common in your professional or personal circles, even if it doesn’t apply to you. - location 1769

1. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees? 2. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession (defined as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)? 3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and is not where you went to college? 4. Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at a family income that was close to or below the poverty line? - location 1787

5. Have you ever walked on a factory floor? 6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day? People Who Have Been Part of Your Life 7. Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian? 8. Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements? 9. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard? 10. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes? 11. What military ranks do these five insignia represent? 12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products? 13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck? 14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge? 15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing? 16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse Some American Institutions 17. In secondary school, did you letter in anything? 18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or a meeting at a union local? 19. Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights? 20. Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform? 21. Have you ever ridden on a long-distance bus (e.g., Greyhound, Trailways) or hitchhiked for a trip of fifty miles or more? Media and Popular Culture 22. Which of the following movies have you seen (at a theater or on a DVD)? Iron Man 2, Inception, Despicable Me, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Little Fockers, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island 23. During the 2009–10 television season, how many of the following series did you watch regularly? American Idol, Undercover Boss, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men, The Office, Survivor 24. Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through? 25. What does the word Branson mean to you? - location 1798

Scoring Your Access to the Rest of America 1. Have you ever - location 1829

A majority of Americans in their forties have been below the poverty line for a year at least once since their teens—56 - location 1851

In the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for 2009, 35 percent of the respondents said that they smoked some days or every day. - location 1896

In the 2000 census, 26.4 million Americans were veterans of the armed forces. - location 1908

91 percent top marginal rate that prevailed in 1960 - location 2071

A Different World To get a sense of just how different attitudes were in the early 1960s, perhaps this will do it. These ever-married women were asked, “In your opinion, do you think it is all right for a woman to have sexual relations before marriage with a man she knows she is going to marry?” Note the wording. Not sex with someone a woman is dating, nor with someone a woman loves, but with a man she knows she is going to marry. Eighty-six percent said no.2 - location 2537

The two neighborhoods, which had been only 11 percentage points apart as late as 1978, were separated by 35 percentage points as of 2010, when only 48 percent of prime-age whites in Fishtown were married, compared to 84 percent in 1960. - location 2613

The divergence between Belmont and Fishtown is substantial, with 22 percent of Fishtown children living with a lone divorced or separated parent as of 2010, compared to just 3 percent of Belmont children. Divorce isn’t the biggest problem that the childre
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