The Best Quotations from Charles Murray’s ‘Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010’

by John Hawkins | March 28, 2012 5:16 am

Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010[1] has been one of the most innovative and talked about political books of 2012 with good reason.

It’s a sobering book that talks about the huge chasm that has developed between the elite and the rest of America over the last 50 years.

In the 1963 Current Population Survey, a divorced person headed just 3.5 percent of American households, with another 1.6 percent headed by a separated person. — P.4

If filmmakers in 1963 wanted the approval of the Production Code of Motion Picture Association of America, which almost all of them still did, the dialogue could not include any profanity stronger than hell or damn, and there had been dramatic justification even for them. Characters couldn’t take the name of the Lord in vain, or ridicule religion, or use any of form of obscenity — meaning just about anything related to the sex act….the plot couldn’t present sex outside of marriage as attractive or justified. Homosexuality was to be presented as a perversion. Abortion? “The subject of abortion shall be discouraged, shall never be more than suggested, and when referred to shall be condemned,” said the code. — P.5

Economists have since reconstructed earlier poverty rates using decennial census data, and determined that 41 percent of Americans were still below the poverty line in 1949. A drop from 41 percent to under 20 percent in just 14 years (1963) was a phenomenal achievement. — P.8

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. — P.25

In 1960, the corporation ranked 100 on the Fortune 500 had sales of $3.2 billion. In 2010, the 100th ranked corporation had sales of $24.5 billion – almost an eightfold increase in constant dollars. That kind of supersizing in the corporate world occurred across the range — the corporation ranked 500 in 2010 was eight times larger than the 500th ranked corporation in 1960. — P.48

Real family income for families in the middle was flat. Just about all of the benefits of economic growth from 1970-2010 went to people in the upper half of the income distribution. — P.50

The average Harvard freshman in 1952 would have placed in the bottom 10 percent of the incoming class by 1960. — P.55

79 percent of students at “Tier 1” colleges as of the 1990s came from families in the top quartile of socioeconomic status, while only 2 percent came from the bottom quartile. — P.59

In 1960, just 3 percent of American couples both had a college degree. By 2010, that proportion stood at 25 percent. — P.62

Even excluding the Upper East Side, the median family income of Manhattan south of Ninety-Sixth Street had risen from the $39,300 of 1960 to $121,400 in 2010. The proportion of adults with college degrees had risen from 16 percent to 60 percent. Within the Upper East Side itself, the median family income had risen from the $55,400 of 1960 to $195,300. The proportion of adults with college degrees had risen from 23 percent to 75 percent. — P.73

In 1900, 90 percent of American workers were employed in low-level white-collar or technical jobs, manual or service jobs, or worked on farms. Even when our time horizon opens in 1960, 81 percent or workers were still employed in those jobs. –P.124

(In 1962), Gallup interviewed 1,813 women ages 21-60. “In general, who do you think is happier,” the Gallup interviewer asked, “the girl who is married and has a family to raise, or the unmarried career girl?” Ninety-six percent of the wives said the married girl with a family was happier. Ninety-three percent said they did not, in retrospect, wish they had pursued a career instead of getting married. — P.149

To get a sense of how different attitudes were in the 1960s, perhaps this will do it. These ever-married women were asked, “In your opinion, do you think it is all right for a woman to have sexual relations before marriage with a man she knows she is going to marry?” …Eighty-six percent said no. — P.150

Starting in 1970, marriage took a nosedive that lasted for nearly twenty years. Among all whites ages 30-49, only 13 percent were not living with spouses as of 1970, Twenty years later, that proportion had more than doubled, to 27 percent — a change in a core social institution that has few precedents for magnitude and speed. — P.154

From the founding until well into the twentieth century, it was unquestioned that children should be born only within marriage and that failure to maintain that state of affairs would produce catastrophic consequences for society. — P.159

Even in the most recent data from 2008, fewer than 5 percent of babies born to women with sixteen or more years of education were non-marital. But anywhere below sixteen years of education, the increase in the likelihood of a nonmarital birth was substantial. For women who did not finish high school, the percentage was closing in on levels in excess of 60 percent of live births that previously have been associated with the black underclass. — P.162

America experienced a social and economic revolution from the early 1970s to the early 1990s. The percentage of white women in the labor force rose from 40 percent in 1960 to 74 percent by 1995. In the fifteen years after 1995, little changed, with the percentage hitting its high of 75 percent in 2000 and standing at 70 percent in 2008. — P.183

A review of the literature as of 2001 concluded there is strong evidence for the relationship of religiosity to happiness and satisfaction with life, self-esteem, less depression, and less substance abuse. — P.201

Failing to meet that goal (Putting a household of 2 above the poverty line) if full of implications because it asks so little. As of 2010, a married man without children could have done it if he worked 50.5 weeks at a minimum wage job. But the minimum wage is seldom relevant for men ages 30-49 who have stayed in the labor force. Only 6 percent of hourly paid workers have wages that low. Suppose that in 2010 you held the job that is synonymous with low prestige and low pay — janitor. If you made exactly the average hourly wage of all janitors, $11.60, and you worked forty-hour weeks, your income in 2010 would have passed (putting 2 people above the poverty line) in the thirty-first week of the year. — P.227

Scholars have retrospectively calculated the poverty rate back as far as the 1940 census, showing that poverty then stood at more than 50 percent of the American population. — P.227

A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. If that same man lives under a system that says the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing a theoretical outcome, but American neighborhoods where, once working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t. Taking the trouble out of life strips people in major ways which human beings look back on their lives and say, “I made a difference.” — P.283

Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I understood the code for males to go something like this:

“To be a man means that you are brave, loyal, and true. When you are in the wrong, you own up, and take your punishment. You don’t take advantage of women. As a husband, you support and protect your wife and children. You are gracious in victory and a good sport in defeat. Your word is your bond. Your handshake is as good as your word. It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. When the ship goes down, you put the women and children into the lifeboats and wave good-bye with a smile.”

It is hard to image a paragraph more crammed with cliches. My point is that they were cliches precisely because boys understood that this is the way they were supposed to behave. — P.289

The crafting of legislation by Congress has always been like the making of sausage. But when the federal government did not have much to sell except contracts for roads, military equipment, and government buildings, the amount of energy devoted to scrambling for government spoils was commensurate with the size of the pot. The pot has grown, with hundreds of billions of dollars of goodies now up for grabs for whoever knows the right people, can convince the right committee chairman to insert a clause in the legislation, convince the right regulatory bureaucrat to word a ruling in a certain way, or secure the right appointment to a key government panel. — P.294

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

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