Monday, February 06, 2012

Murray's Coming Apart 1: SuperZips

This week I will be blogging on Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960 - 2010. If you would like to read the short version of his argument, see "The New American Divide" in the Wall Street Journal.

Murray's main point is that a new upper class and a new lower class have grown in the past generation. The new upper class is a brainy meritocracy who met in elite colleges and reap high incomes from their mental skills and work ethic. Murray fears that this new elite is now so large and rich that they can live an isolated life from other classes, especially from the new, and increasingly incompetent, lower class.

I will start with the best feature of Murray's analysis: the SuperZips, and the ideal types of "Belmont" and "Fishtown."

Murray shows that managers and professionals who run America are increasingly concentrated in neighborhoods where most people are college graduates, and live in households making over $200,000 per year. He uses zip codes as his unit of analysis, which are fairly large and mixed areas. Nonetheless, in a generation, the zip codes in which managers and professionals concentrate, mostly around large cities, have switched to having college graduate majorities, and have incomes (in constant dollars) which would in 1960 would have been in the top 1%, but are now only in the top 5%. These SuperZips also have a great disproportion of elite college graduates.

The main tool that he develops for comparison is an imagined "Belmont" and "Fishtown," based on the real upper-middle-class suburb of Boston and the real working-class-neighborhood of Philadelphia, respectively. The ideal-typical communities combine the qualities of their comparable upper-middle enclaves and working-class communities. Comparing such things as marriage and crime rates in this composite Belmont with the composite Fishtown is a very helpful way of compressing complex data.

And in general he shows that things have been steadily good in Belmont, whereas they have declined dramatically in Fishtown.

The rest of this series will cover the main points of Murray's findings, and my critiques and appreciations of his findings.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'll definitely have to check this book out when I have time... maybe some "weekend" reading.