The political rhetoric from the past American presidential campaign could easily give one the impression that the USA is one big happy country made up almost entirely of "middle class" people. (This sounds as credible as Lake Wobegon's "all the children are above average.") The book sees things differently.
Looking at white America Mr. Murray sees a country increasingly polarized into two culturally and geographically isolated demographics. For the new upper class (20% +-) divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of, and the rate of obesity is low. Meanwhile for the new lower class where the bottom 30 percent live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four “founding virtues” — marriage, industriousness, community and faith — have all but collapsed. The remaining 50 percent are somewhere between these extremes. The percentages given above are for 2010. In 1960 the upper class was 60%, lower class 5% and the balance 30%. (Based on Figure C.3, page 325) The author shows though numerous graphs that the differences between these classes are trending further apart.
Wherever one happens to be in this spectrum of classes, they are likely to live in neighborhoods of like minded people of a similar social class. The author refers to this as living in a bubble. Which then leads to the observation that the class which is most influential regarding laws and social policy are socially isolated from the less influential classes. Therefore, it is unlikely future governmental policies will be directed toward curbing the trends of increased cultural divide.
It's hard to argue against the author based on the facts. The book, complete with appendices, is full of graphs, supporting data, and explanations regarding sources of information. The author's suggestions for correcting the class trends don't impress me as being particularly helpful. His suggestions can be summarized with his statement that the new upper class should "preach what they practice." Really? That would change things? I don't think so.
The book is focuses on changes during the time period of 1960 to the present. That is basically the time period of my adult life. Thus the changes that the author is talking about have occurred during my own lifetime, and frankly I didn't notice the changes myself. I kept wanting to argue with the author, but he had all the data on his side.
The author had limited the book's focus to the white population. He defends this because he says the problems of poverty and crime are widely associated with black and Latino portions of the population. The author in one chapter near the end of the book demonstrates that adding the minority populations to the data doesn't change the results in any significant manner. In other words, the book is making the case that the developing cultural divides are not caused by increased minority populations. If you study the minority populations you will find the same types of cultural divides.
The author notes one glaring exception to the findings that all racial groups have similar cultural divides. That exception is the rate at which the black population is incarcerated. The crime and arrest rates are about the same for all groups. However, blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate than other ethnic groups. Thus the next book I read is on this very subject, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander. LINK TO MY REVIEW