Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

by Charles Murray
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Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray

Coming Apart - an acclaimed bestseller that explains why white America has become fractured and divided in education and class.

In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity.

Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.

The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk.

The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307453426
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/31/2012
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

CHARLES MURRAY is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, and Real Education. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.

Read an Excerpt


Our Kind of People

In which is described the emergence of a new and distinctive culture among a highly influential segment of American society.

ON SEPTEMBER 29, 1987, ABC premiered an hour-long dramatic series with the cryptic title thirtysomething. The opening scene is set in a bar. Not a Cheers bar, where Cliff the mailman perches on a bar stool alongside Norm the accountant and Frasier the psychiatrist, but an airy room, perhaps attached to a restaurant, with sunlight streaming in through paned windows onto off-white walls.

The room is crowded with an upscale clientele gathered for drinks after work, nattily uniformed servers moving among them. Two women in their late twenties or early thirties wearing tailored business outfits are seated at a table. A vase with a minimalist arrangement of irises and forsythia is visible in the background. On the table in front of the women are their drinks- both of them wine, served in classic long-stemmed glasses. Nary a peanut or a pretzel is in sight. One of the women is talking about a man she has started dating. He is attractive, funny, good in bed, she says, but there's a problem: He wears polyester shirts. "Am I allowed to have a relationship with someone who wears polyester shirts?" she asks.

She is Hope Murdoch, the female protagonist. She ends up marrying the man who wore the polyester shirts, who is sartorially correct by the time we see him. Hope went to Princeton. She is a writer who put a promising career on hold when she had a baby. He is Michael Steadman, one of two partners in a fledgling advertising agency in Philadelphia. He went to the University of Pennsylvania (the Ivy League one). Hope and Michael live with their seven-month-old daughter in an apartment with high ceilings, old-fashioned woodwork, and etched-glass windows. Grad-school-like bookcases are untidily crammed with books. An Art Deco poster is on the wall. A Native American blanket is draped over the top of the sofa.

In the remaining forty-five minutes, we get dialogue that includes a reference to left brain/right brain differences and an exchange about evolutionary sexual selection that begins, "You've got a bunch of Australopithecines out on the savanna, right?" The Steadmans buy a $278 baby stroller (1987 dollars). Michael shops for new backpacking gear at a high-end outdoors store, probably REI. No one wears suits at the office. Michael's best friend is a professor at Haverford. Hope breast-feeds her baby in a fashionable restaurant. Hope can't find a babysitter. Three of the four candidates she interviews are too stupid to be left with her child and the other is too Teutonic. Hope refuses to spend a night away from the baby ("I have to be available to her all the time"). Michael drives a car so cool that I couldn't identify the make. All this, in just the first episode.

The culture depicted in thirtysomething had no precedent, with its characters who were educated at elite schools, who discussed intellectually esoteric subjects, and whose sex lives were emotionally complicated and therefore needed to be talked about. The male leads in thirtysomething were on their way up through flair and creativity, not by being organization men. The female leads were conflicted about motherhood and yet obsessively devoted to being state-of-the-art moms. The characters all possessed a sensibility that shuddered equally at Fords and Cadillacs, ranch homes in the suburbs and ponderous mansions, Budweiser and Chivas Regal.

In the years to come, America would get other glimpses of this culture in Mad About You, Ally McBeal, Frasier, and The West Wing, among others, but no show ever focused with the same laser intensity on the culture that thirtysomething depicted-understandably, because the people who live in that culture do not make up much of the audience for network television series, and those who are the core demographic for network television series are not particularly fond of the culture that thirtysomething portrayed. It was the emerging culture of the new upper class.

Let us once again return to November 21, 1963, and try to find its counterpart.

The Baseline

The World of the Upper-Middle Class

Two conditions have to be met before a subculture can spring up within a mainstream culture. First, a sufficient number of people have to possess a distinctive set of tastes and preferences. Second, they have to be able to get together and form a critical mass large enough to shape the local scene. The Amish have managed to do it by achieving local dominance in selected rural areas. In 1963, other kinds of subcultures also existed in parts of the country. Then as now, America's major cities had distinctive urban styles, and so did regions such as Southern California, the Midwest, and the South. 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. Only a dozen census tracts in the entire nation had adult populations in which more than 50 percent of the adults had college degrees, and all of them were on or near college campuses.

In the second place, affluence in 1963 meant enough money to afford a somewhat higher standard of living than other people, not a markedly different lifestyle. In 1963, the median family income of people working in managerial occupations and the professions was only $61,500 (2010 dollars, as are all dollar figures from now on). Fewer than 5 percent of American families in 1963 had incomes of $100,000 or more, and fewer than half of 1 percent had incomes of $200,000 or more.

Table of Contents

Prologue: November 21, 1963 1

Part I The Formation of a New Upper Class

1 Our Kind of People 23

2 The Foundations of the New Upper Class 46

3 A New Kind of Segregation 69

4 How Thick Is Your Bubble? 100

5 The Bright Side of the New Upper Class 116

Part II The Formation of a New Lower Class

6 The Founding Virtues 127

7 Belmont and Fishtown 144

8 Marriage 149

9 Industriousness 168

10 Honesty 189

11 Religiosity 200

12 The Real Fishtown 209

13 The Size of the New Lower Class 226

Part III Why It Matters

14 The Selective Collapse of American Community 236

15 The Founding Virtues and the Stuff of Life 253

16 One Nation, Divisible 269

17 Alternative Futures 278

Acknowledgments 307

Appendix A Data Sources and Presentation 310

Appendix B Supplemental Material for the Segregation Chapter 315

Appendix C Supplemental Material for the Chapter on Belmont and Fishtown 321

Appendix D Supplemental Material for the Marriage Chapter 337

Appendix E Supplemental Material for the Honesty Chapter 342

Appendix F Supplemental Material for the American Community Chapter 353

Appendix G Supplemental Material for the Chapter About the Founding Virtues and the Stuff of Life 356

Notes 358

Bibliography 389

Index 399

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s 'Coming Apart.'”
—David Brooks, The New York Times

"Mr. Murray's sobering portrait is of a nation where millions of people are losing touch with the founding virtues that have long lent American lives purpose, direction and happiness."
W. Bradford WilcoxThe Wall Street Journal

"'Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010' brims with ideas about what ails America."
— The Economist

“a timely investigation into a worsening class divide no one can afford to ignore.” 
Publisher's Weekly 

“[Charles Murray] argues for the need to focus on what has made the U.S. exceptional beyond its wealth and military power...religion, marriage, industriousness, and morality.” 
Booklist (Starred Review)

"Charles Murray ... has written an incisive, alarming, and hugely frustrating book about the state of American society."
—Roger Lowenstein, Bloomberg Businessweek 


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Coming Apart 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Joesmar More than 1 year ago
I read this book on the recommendation of my father-in-law so we could discuss it. While I did find it interesting, it read like a high school or college sociology textbook. I do not recommend it for Nook as the line graphs are hard to read and he refers to them often and it is hard to find them again.
FrontPorchReview More than 1 year ago
i'm not sure why an author has to be "self-aware" as opposed to "self-absorbed" to write on a topic (i can find several examples of excellent books by authors who are most likely self-absorbed). in addition, how a reviewer boasts a solid conclusion to that effect is beyond self-righteousness. most likely an effect of being in an elite bubble that Murray wonderfully describes in the book. otherwise, how does a person say something subjective - unless he is a professional psychologist - as calling someone self-absorbed in an assured way as to seem objective? because he assumes he is right about everything, thus making him an elite. perhaps not in status, but in his own mind. the "Tom Wolfe" reviewer also uses the word "obviously", without backing his assertions up with any amount of proof or argument whatsoever. i found this to be another example of the absolutely obvious nature of the reviewer's self-righteousness. the statistics and conclusions in this book are incredibly rational with subjective nuances about human nature in tact. i will leave the potential reader with one example that does not necessarily require statistics or more proof than we've all seen with our own eyes: Murray comes to the conclusion that children brought up (gasp!) in two-parent homes do better in life. Murray also brings up several points regarding the pursuit of happiness as it was originally intented in what he calls "the American Project". in so doing, he uses basic definitions of happiness as opposed to "unhinged hedonism" some may associate with happiness in modern times. the book brings up excellent points about how culture is affecting destructive or what he calls "unseemly" behavior that results from a society with less codes of honor or morals. one such example he provides is an "unseemly" severence package for a failed CEO. Murray points out that these packages are NOT illegal but are morally reprehensible. in other words, Murray concludes that a society that loses it's moral bearings erodes itself from the inside. even if one disagrees with Murray's conclusion(s), it will provide the reader with a facinating read for those interested in the social sciences, or even human nature in general. [one can preview Murray's presentation and summary of the book on booktv's website - i believe only the elite would find Charles Murray "self-absorbed" because they can never admit they are wrong or argue on topic]
rkbl More than 1 year ago
Startling statistics. So startling that even if half of what he says is true, it's hard to discount his basic premise. If you've ever felt like the classes were much further apart in America than they've ever been, this book provides some possible explanations. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent analysis of societal shift. Reads like a text book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an enlightening and compelling book. It was much more so because Mr. Murray limited his data to only the white population, which took away the racial bias he had been accused of in some of his earlier work. I would have been interested though in hearing Mr. Murray expand on his views regarding the specific underlying political and social policy events that help to explain the changes that began to occur during the 70s and 80s. Were Medicaid and other social programs contributors, such as the expansion of the definition of disability under the social security program? Also what impact might illegal drug use have had, or was the increase in illegal drug use a consequence of the social/economic disparity that was beginning to occur during those decades?
mermao More than 1 year ago
This is not light reading, but author Charles Murray does make sociology and statistics understandable to the lay reader. His picture of the trajectories of the white upper and lower classes since about 1960 is in some respects just the opposite of media stereotypes. He is concerned and I think rightly so about the growing rigidity of socio-economic class distinctions in the US even as most Americans continue to deny that such classes exist at all. What to do about it is another matter. Murray admires how most of the upper class live their lives and wishes they would preach what they practice. That might help or not, but it doesn't seem like a one stop solution to the various problems he outlines.
WriterRani More than 1 year ago
My thoughts- This book was interesting, but I think that 300 pages for the main text was too long. It could have been shorter and gotten to the point faster. I have never thought that the census was that important and asked a lot of personal questions that it didn’t need to. This book showed me how important the census is and what kind of information can be gotten from it. Without this information there would be no book. I thought the last chapter was the best, because it was no longer about numbers and it talked about Charles Murray’s opinion and where the United States will be in the future. We can already see in Europe what happens when heritage is forgotten. As a country we need to get back to our founding fathers’ virtues, so that we can have a strong future without such a strong separation between classes. I recommend this book to those who want to learn how America is coming apart culturally. Disclosure of Material Connection- I received Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 by Charles Murray for free from the WaterBrook Multnomah “Blogging For Books” program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Murray relates his perspective of the social changes over the designated time frame, the resulting grouping of like minded population clusters, and the likely results therefrom. It may be that such "clustering" is to be expected and perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised by such. Someone else said it, but I suggest it applies in this case..."birds of a feather flock together".
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MaryRuthP More than 1 year ago
This book was my first reading experience in the field of social sciences. After reading it, I now know why I am not a sociologist. The facts that Murray presented in Coming Apart concerning the shifts and changes that have taken place in American society over the last fifty years were very interesting, and he put into words and numbers trends and movements that I have vaguely sensed but never fully understood before. However, the sheer amount of detail he included was overwhelming, to say the least. Three hundred pages of detail, followed by another hundred pages of appendices. Everything was presented in an orderly manner with plenty of explanation and interpretation of the data, but I couldn't help thinking as I read, "You could have made the same point just as powerfully in about 1/3 the words". As I said, I'm not a sociologist, so there could be elements of the book that I failed to appreciate. However, as a reasonably good reader, I found Coming Apart to be simply too overloaded with dry details. The points the author made were interesting, though, and I for one wouldn't mind reading a condensed version of this book if one were to be published. I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review. A favorable review was not required; my opinions are my own.
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