The new Charles Murray book

Kevin Drum offers comment:

…is it really true that back in 1963 the “upper tribe” and the “lower tribe” were more similar than they are today? It might seem that way in retrospect, but it sure didn’t at the time. It didn’t seem that way to Gunnar Myrdal or Michael Harrington, anyway. Overall, I can pretty easily buy the “Apart” piece of the title, but I’m a lot less sure about the “Growing” piece. For every example of a way in which top and bottom have diverged over the past 50 years, I suspect that you could also find an example of ways in which they’ve converged. It’s just that Murray wasn’t looking for any of those.

Perhaps electronic communications is one example, or maybe air conditioning, paging Don Boudreaux.  Sharing a greater number of absolute benefits is an extra commonality, for instance sharing “telephone plus internet” is more in common than just “everyone has a telephone,” even if the absolute number of differences is rising too.

This “mood affiliation” review is from a Rortybomb pointer I believe, excerpt:

Murray can’t tell you what really caused the class divide in marriage because the class-based changes in families he laments closely track the class warfare of the 1%. Up through the mid-’80s, upper class and working class divorce rates rose and fell together. Starting in 1990, the lines diverged, with the divorce rates of college graduates falling back to the level of the mid-sixties (before no-fault divorce) while the divorce and non-marital birth rates of everyone else continued to rise.

Do all the other social indicators follow this same pattern?  Did religiosity decline because of privileges for the wealthy and class warfare?  Are we supposed to think that broadly stagnant incomes for the lower classes caused more divorce for those individuals?  Didn’t stagnant incomes set in around 1973, with parts of the 1990s being relatively good times for the labor market?  In other words, those divorce rate and other social indicator changes are not the fault of the top one percent as this review would have you believe.  This latter point in the review makes more sense to me, though I don’t read it as contra Murray:

Third, women’s employment increased in the same period and women’s wages gained the most vis-à-vis men at the bottom of the income scale. As recently as 1990, women of all educational levels earned about the same percent of the hourly wages of men with the same education. To the extent the gendered “wage gap” varied, college educated women enjoyed slightly more parity with men than working class women. By 2007, the wage gap varied dramatically by class. College-educated women earned a smaller percentage of the hourly income of their male counterparts, while the wage gap between working-class men and women shrunk substantially.

…The result: a change in family norms. College-educated women postpone childbearing, invest in their careers, and conduct a long search for a compatible and reliable mate.

But does he have the stones to write “A hypergamy theory of changing social indicators”?

The liberation of American women also damaged the quality of public education, by removing the implicit subsidy of so many “captive” and smart female laborers.  I would say that the non-wealthy did not have good norms to deal with women’s liberation and maybe they could not have had such norms.  It’s time to come to terms with that history.  I am willing to embrace it, though I am not sure Murray is.

I’ve now read the book and I think it is very good, very well-written, and considerably more bulletproof than some of the critics are suggesting.  That said, not much in it surprised me or changed my views; admittedly these are areas where I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately.


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