The New Segregation

Coming Apart
The State of White America, 1960–2010
Charles Murray
Crown Forum, $27, 407 pp.

Charles Murray has joined the inequality debate with a provocative argument that challenges the prevailing liberal view. He, too, believes there is a class divide in white America, but he contends that it is rooted in cultural, rather than economic, change.

In 1960, Murray says, white Americans shared a common culture. Although some people had white-collar jobs and others had blue-collar jobs, the two groups lived together in the same neighborhoods, shared common experiences, participated in common institutions, and held to a common set of values. But over the past half-century, this culturally monolithic white America has disappeared. In its place, he argues, are two separate and unequal classes, divided by geography, marriage, education, tastes, and values.

At one end of this divide is a new upper class: college-educated, hard-working, affluent, and happily married for the long term. At the opposite end of the divide is a new lower class: less-educated, idle, and episodically married if married at all.

The two classes live in separate communities. They have little regular contact with each other. They rarely meet in the grocery store or the bus stop or the local school or the pews. They have radically different styles of childrearing. The upper class sets strenuous performance and achievement standards for their children while the lower class let...

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About the Author

Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of The Divorce Culture (Knopf), directs the Center for Thrift and Generosity at the Institute for American Values.