You are here:   Columns >  On the Contrary > Measuring Meritocracy


Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 (Random House) is chock-full of things you're not supposed to say. Putting my foot in it having become a personal speciality, I feel compelled to repeat them.

Murray's larger thesis — that the US has polarised into a not-always-metaphorically gated community of the "new upper class" that still hews to traditional American values of industriousness and intact families, and a "new lower class" in which hard work and marriage are, fatally, no longer the norm — is too wide-ranging to address here.  But his submission about "homogamy" is   irresistibly incendiary.

Homogamy isn't New Year's Eve in Scotland. It refers to the tendency of like to marry like. Since top-flight American universities with an enormous pool of applicants have for decades creamed the smartest young people from the population, and university is often where we meet our mates, educational selectivity increases the chances that clever Americans marry clever Americans. Even if high-flyers don't find love in college or grad school, they are apt to find employment alongside others with degrees from Harvard, say, or MIT — and the workplace is another common context in which romance thrives. Murray posits that "cognitive ability" in a digitalised, high-tech, knowledge-based economy has become the single most determinative attribute of career success.

Intelligence is hereditary. Even allowing for gravitation towards the mean (alas, I am probably stupider than both my parents), high-IQ parents have children whose intelligence is also above average. With braininess the key to financial ascendancy, smart parents can afford to send their smart kids to elite schools — where the smart kids will meet smart mates and beget more smart children. Get the picture? We're bordering on voluntary eugenics here.

Yanks and Brits have long held departing versions of their upper classes, starting with the farcical American conceit that we don't have classes at all. The British have latterly crafted a variation: the UK does have an upper class, ostensibly inbred and addled by idleness, but there lives not a Briton today who admits to belonging to it. 

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.