America is suffering from an increasingly severe cultural split between upper and lower class white citizens, author Charles A. Murray ’65 declared in a talk at the Institute of Politics Thursday.
Murray, who gained national attention for his controversial 1994 bestseller, “The Bell Curve,” said that although class differences have always existed, the schism now is more rooted in cultural differences than financial inequality.
“Over the course of the last 50 years we have seen the developments of classes in the United States that are different in kind from the classes we’ve had before,” Murray said Thursday evening. “We’ve always had rich people and poor people—that is not different. This is divergence in the culture of the classes.”
Murray discussed the findings of his recently published book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America,” and fielded questions from the audience alongside event moderator William Kristol ’73, the founder and editor of the Weekly Standard and former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle.
“The book takes a long look at the new upper class, and its culture, and its segregation from the rest of the society,” Murray said. He added, “the conclusion at the end of it all is that we are in grave danger of the American project unraveling.”
Expanding upon one of the fundamental case studies of his book, Murray explained that marriage statistics reveal one of the most visible cultural differences between classes. According to Murray, in 1960 approximately 94 percent of upper-middle class white people ages 30-49 were married; in 2010, this number hovered around 84 percent.
“Marriage is alive and well in the upper-middle class,” he said.
However, Murray said that among the white working class, 84 percent of people in the same age group were married in 1960, compared to just 48 percent in recent years.
Looking down the road, Murray said he is not optimistic about the future of class divisions in America. He explained that he has very few realistic solutions for solving the current trend. However, in an interview before the event, Murray noted that Harvard could potentially play an instrumental role in reintegrating lower and upper classes by initiating affirmative action based on socioeconomic status in addition to race.
“There are lots of really, really bright working-class white kids out there who can easily deal with Harvard’s curriculum,” Murray said. “They get dominated by the super, super bright kids who come out of the terrific prep schools. This sorta squeezes out the population of white working-class kids. I would like to see just as many students admitted on a basis of affirmative action as are now…[but also] a lot more working-class kids.”
Murray concluded his more than 30-minute speech by arguing that the increase in cultural differences is a positive feedback loop, and if action is not taken, the differences will continue to grow exponentially.
—Staff writer Forrest K. Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.