Old-fashioned American Aspiration: Increasingly the territory of the affluent

by Ryan Streeter on July 10, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

We’ve learned from Charles Murray’s research that unmarried birth rates for the upper and lower classes were in the single digits in the 1960s, but that today, they are at about 50% for lower class Americans while still in the single digits among the affluent.

Now, we learn from Bob Putnam via David Brooks what some of the social consequences of this and related trends are:

A generation ago, working-class parents spent slightly more time with their kids than college-educated parents. Now college-educated parents spend an hour more every day. This attention gap is largest in the first three years of life when it is most important…

[B]ehavior gaps are opening up. In 1972, kids from the bottom quartile of earners participated in roughly the same number of activities as kids from the top quartile. Today, it’s a chasm.

Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.

In other words good old iconic America is increasingly becoming an upper class phenomenon. Nothing about these trends results from the rich hoarding wealth or profiting off the backs of the poor or anything the American left wants you to think about the origins of inequality.

No, instead, wealthier American kids are doing what American kids have done for a few generations: gone to church, gotten involved at school, and when they get out on the stage or athletic field, they do so wanting to make mom and dad – who are watching – proud of their performance. The rich haven’t actually changed much from the 1950s.

Instead, lower class America has changed – in disturbing ways. While everyone has to be held accountable for his or her own actions, what’s especially disturbing about these trends is that to some degree they are the result of cultural elites promoting a marriage-less, church-less, commitment-less way of life that has had devastating consequences for those least equipped to deal with them.