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Factors Driving the US Toward a Class System

Updated on January 9, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


There is an interesting shift in society Charles Murray documented of how there is less class churn (shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations).

The reasons are:

  • assortive mating
  • marriage eroding in the lower classes.
  • growing correlation between education and income

Two college grads marrying each other have higher incomes than a college grad marrying a high school grad - and this on a large scale partially explains the growing gap in incomes between classes.
Two college grads marrying each other have higher incomes than a college grad marrying a high school grad - and this on a large scale partially explains the growing gap in incomes between classes. | Source

Assortive Mating

When you married the girl next door at 20, you didn't know if he'd be an executive, plumber or burn out. When you both marry in college, you're both typically middle class, and you don't get the college educated guy marrying the girl who only finishes high school. This is partially why there is more income stratification between classes - two Ivy league lawyers marry each other, or rarely, he marries a college educated secretary, but it almost unheard of for the college educated girl to marry the high school grad or vice versa.

Compounding the issue is the expectation that a man marry someone with similar educational levels, something made much easier by there being more women in college than men. The rags to riches romances from Cinderella to the millionaires who married maids have been rendered obsolete fairy tales, not a ticket to the middle or upper classes for poor girls.

This results in greater disparities in income between the classes. Two college grads earn more than two high school graduates, on average, and the lack of marriages between the two groups compound the income gap between the two groups - as well as foster cultural differences because the two groups don't mix as family. Then their children are more likely to marry within the same class, creating a cultural divide and reinforced class system.

Erosion of Marriage

One of the biggest determinants of poor life outcomes is coming from an unmarried home. 3x the odds of failing to finish high school, become an alcoholic or addict, have an unwed pregnancy, commit suicide, be held back a grade, be mentally ill. This is true whether the mother is college educated or a high school dropout - without a committed father, the odds of everything bad are three times as high. And mom and dad living together outside of marriage are not a valid substitute for marriage, because 75% of married couples stay together until the kid is 18, while fewer than 10% of unmarried couples do. For more information on this, read Shaunti Feldhahn's research.

Marriage provides stability, and without it and Dad invested in kids, life outcomes for the children are worse. Same sex marriage stats from the Regnerus study back this up – two same sex parents did better than a single mother raising a child, as long as the child was the same sex as the parents. When the child was the opposite gender, the child's life outcomes were actually worse than when raised by a single mother.

While marriage rates for college educated are back to 1980s levels with at least three quarters getting married by 40 and fewer than 10% of births illegitimate ... for the lower class (those without a college degree), fewer than half ever marry and most births are illegitimate. Thus, by giving up marriage, they nearly guarantee their children will be in poverty. This creates inter-generational poverty, and the social divide creates a lower class culture that traps those born there because they lack the social skill and education to escape.

Those with college degrees discriminate against those who don't have them, whether the job actually requires it, furthering class divisions.
Those with college degrees discriminate against those who don't have them, whether the job actually requires it, furthering class divisions. | Source

The Reliance on College Degrees for Middle Class Job Prospects

Why is there a mantra that your kid has to go to college, must go to college, gotta go to college? Because we've come to believe that a child must have a college degree, any degree, to get a good job. This has occurred at the same time there has been a devaluation of what Mike Rowe calls "dirty jobs", the hard work by skilled labor. Many people go $40,000 to go into debt for an ethnic studies or other liberal arts degree with no economic value simply to pass what can be considered a simple IQ and work ethic test. Are they smart enough to get into college and have enough perseverance to finish? Good enough to get a job, even positions that don't require a college degree.

And there is a bias toward the credentials regardless of their relevance. Good enough to get a job, even positions that don't require a college degree. You see this bias in Human Resources where they hire the person with a degree but no experience over the person with twenty years of experience but no credentials.

To compound the problem, the abundance of college graduates without marketable skills like nursing, programming, engineering and teaching causes them to crowd those with only a high school diploma out of secretarial work, sales positions and other jobs that would give those individuals a decent income. This denies those without the diploma access to better paying jobs that would give them access to the middle class.

The over-valuation of college – and corresponding devaluation of skilled labor - results in employers not paying more for the skilled labor. When the CNC machine programmer is seen as no better than the assembler earning minimum wage, paying him a dollar an hour more means he can't get to the middle class.


By shifting mate selection to "meet someone in college" and essentially preventing marriages that crossed class lines, you get far less mixing and more stratification.

By essentially eliminating marriage in the lower class, you nearly guarantee poverty for their children.

By overvaluing college and devaluing skilled labor, those who have a high school degree and vocational training are shut out of the jobs paying middle class wages that blue collar workers used to use to raise their kids up to the middle and upper classes.

And that is why the US is moving toward a class system based on education, reinforced by family structure and credential-itis.


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