Tim Carney’s Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse is an outstanding book. Although it did discuss Trump’s election in passing, that is mainly a tool it used to point to cultural differences in different parts in the country. Other books have covered some of this same ground, but Carney made an excellent point that the disintegration of real-life social ties in America is doing much more damage than we may have realized. Other books like Bowling Alone and Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 have covered some of the same ground, but Carney did an excellent job of adding something to their work. Here are the best stats and quotes from Carney’s book which I think is well worth reading.
* But maybe the things we think accompany the American Dream are the things that really are the American Dream. What if the T-ball game, the standing-room-only high school Christmas concert, the parish potluck, and decorating the community hall for a wedding—what if those activities are not the dressings around the American Dream, but what if they are the American Dream?
* Why do so many people believe the American Dream is dead? I think the answer is this: because strong communities have crumbled, and much of America has been left abandoned, without the web of human connections and institutions that make the good life possible. More of America is a wasteland of alienation. Less of America is the “village.”
* Up and down the income scale, the economy was robust. Blue-collar workers made up about one-third of the workforce, and three-fourths of them enjoyed membership in unions. Businesses, booming, had bought peace with Big Labor. The result was reliable labor, reliable pay, and good retirement. The old folks back then were propped up by Social Security, funded by 8.6 workers for every retiree. Able-bodied men were expected to work, and almost all of them did. The unemployment rate in July 1955 was 4.0 percent. If a household was headed by adults in their thirties or forties, odds were overwhelming (above 80 percent) that at least one adult worked forty hours a week—this was true even for families whose head didn’t go to college. Good breadwinner jobs for white-collar and blue-collar men allowed 80 percent of wives with young children to stay at home.
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* Before the era of modern transportation, more people would live their lives close to where they were born. This resulted in what an economist may see as inefficient sorting: With a small number of jobs in every town being drawn from a small pool with diverse skills and personalities, you were apt to get an eclectic mix. The second-smartest kid at the local high school might end up running the drugstore. The smartest girl might be a second-grade teacher.
* Men were becoming unneeded in the household and the workforce. There’s data on this. Economists, through some simple math, can measure how far a week of earnings goes for a blue-collar guy. They find that working-class wages fell dramatically after 1972, to about two-thirds of their former high in the 1990s. This pay is still lower today than it was in 1972….“Starting in about 1970 a fully employed male’s wages completely flattened out, and in fact, a fully employed male today, on average, median, earns about $800 less than his dad earned a generation ago.”
* “A typical son in his thirties makes less today than his father did thirty years ago, after inflation.”
* White Americans still live longer than black Americans, and they are less likely than blacks to die young. But while the trends for blacks have been improving, trends for whites are worsening. “This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States,” Case and Deaton wrote. “[N]o other rich country saw a similar turnaround. The midlife mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics….In other words, more white men were drinking themselves to death, overdosing, and killing themselves. These are “deaths of despair.” Such deaths rose by more than half from 2000 to 2014.
* Among men in the prime years of working (ages twenty-five to fifty-four), only about 3.4 percent—one in thirty—were neither working nor looking for work back in 1964. By 2015, even after six years of recovery from the Great Recession, that number stood at 11.8 percent. More than one in ten American men were out of the workforce.
* It’s a dark life. “Prime age men who are out of the labor force,” economist Alan Krueger wrote in late 2016, “report that they experience notably low levels of emotional well-being throughout their days and that they derive relatively little meaning from their daily activities.”
* The average American can expect to live 79.1 years, the study found. But that life expectancy varied massively by geography. The worst counties had a life expectancy of about 66, while in a few counties, the expected life span was 87 years. That’s a wide gap.
* In 1970, the U.S. Census Bureau determined a house filled with married parents and their children under eighteen years constituted 40 percent of all households. By 2012 that number had fallen to 20 percent.
* In 1960, 72 percent of all adults were married. By 2016, it was only half. In 1965, 17 percent of adults aged twenty-one to thirty-five were never married. In 2017, the never-married number was 57 percent.
* The norm of marriage is dead not among our elites but among our working class. It’s not the Wesleyan alumnae living in Greenwich, Connecticut, who are killing the norm as much as it is the working-class men and women living in Middle America. …When it comes to the family, America really has become two nations,” scholar Kay Hymowitz wrote in her 2006 book Marriage and Caste in America. “The old-fashioned married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among college-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income women with only high school education that it is in poor health.”
* Women who don’t attend college are more likely to give birth outside marriage than in marriage—58 percent of all babies born to noncollege women are born out of wedlock. That’s a big increase from the early 1980s. Among those with some college but no degree, single motherhood has risen from 13 percent to 44 percent in those three decades.
* All sorts of factors contribute to mobility, Chetty found, but one factor mattered more than any other: neighborhood family stability. That is, the best way to predict whether a child might end up better off than his parents is to look at his neighborhood and ask if most of the kids in his neighborhood were raised by single mothers or by two parents. In the communities with intact families, the American Dream was alive and well. In the communities where the single mom was the norm, economic mobility was absent.
* Economist Tyler Cowen believes this latter explanation is partly true: America, like any society, has many bad men. The cultural and economic changes of recent decades mean fewer women feel forced to marry these bad men.
* “[M]en enjoy a marriage premium of at least $15,900 per year in their individual income compared to their single peers,” Wilcox and Lerman wrote in 2014. This finding has been replicated again and again and is widely accepted in social science circles….This study, by economists Kate Antonovics and Robert Town, concurred with the consensus that the marriage premium was real, finding that married men make about 19 percent more than unmarried men.
* Recall Raj Chetty, whose research found a seemingly causal link between intact families and economic mobility. His study turned up only one other local characteristic that rivaled two-parent households in boosting mobility: social capital. That is, if you measure the number of community institutions, churches, and bowling leagues, along with the amount of volunteering, the political involvement, and the amount of charitable giving, you can predict the type of place where a child born in poverty could rise up the ranks.
* A simple way of asking about “civil society” or “associational life” is this: Do you do stuff with other people
* But we can go deeper. Social scientist Charles Murray, in Coming Apart, found something interesting: The difference between the average poor person’s happiness and the average upper-middle-class person’s happiness could be mostly explained by two factors: marriage and “high social trust.” Add on two more factors—religious observance and satisfaction with one’s work—and you’ve explained almost the entire remainder of the happiness gap.
* “[O]n average,” Brad Wilcox writes, with the data to back it up, “Americans who regularly attend services at a church, synagogue, temple or mosque are less likely to cheat on their partners; less likely to abuse them; more likely to enjoy happier marriages; and less likely to have been divorced.”
* With these controls in place, families that attend religious ceremonies weekly were much more likely than those who seldom or never attend to (a) eat dinner together daily (58 percent to 41 percent), (b) do household chores together weekly (71 percent to 56 percent), and (c) go out to movies, sporting events, or parks at least once a month (56 percent to 43 percent).“Churchgoing kids,” Robert Putnam wrote in his 2015 book, Our Kids, “have better relations with their parents and other adults, have more friendships with high-performing peers, are more involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, are less prone to substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, and smoking), risky behavior. . . and delinquency.” …But ask almost any social scientist, Left or Right, religious or secular, and he or she will tell you with high confidence that religious people are better off socially and economically and fall into fewer negative behaviors (crime, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, suicide) than nonreligious people. Popular culture likes to paint the dark picture of religion in America, but the actual data point the other way. On a more fundamental level, research suggests that religious people—all else being equal—are happier than less religious people. About half of people who attend church more than once a week say they are “very happy,” according to data from the General Social Survey.
* While Christians seek their reward in the afterlife, going to church may actually postpone that blessed day: A study of 18,000 baby boomers aged fifty and older from 2004 to 2014 found that those who attended church frequently were 40 percent less likely to die in that ten-year stretch than those who never attended, even after controlling for the fact that the physically or mentally ill might be less able to attend.“Between 1996 and 2010,” psychiatry professor Aaron Kheriaty wrote, “those who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide.”
* One-third of all volunteering in America is for religious organizations. Perhaps more impressively, “regular churchgoers are also much more likely to volunteer for secular causes.” …Churchgoers give more, as well. The most religious 20 percent of Americans “is more than four times as generous as his or her counterpart in the least religious fifth,” and that generosity spills over into secular charities, as well.
* But when we talk about the wealthy—with their big homes and fancy TVs and espresso machines—buying their way out of civil society, we run the risk of misstating things. The fact is, the affluent are less socially isolated than the working class. College-educated and higher-income families increasingly live among other college-educated and high-income families, and these suburbs just have more civic engagement. Their PTAs are overflowing with involved mothers and fathers. The local libraries have more events and better attendance. And again, despite the reputation of the decadent godless elite, the pews are more crowded at the churches in wealthier parishes and towns.
* Hyper-individualism doesn’t work as a way of life. Man is a political animal and is meant for society. He needs durable bonds to others, such as those formed in institutions like a parish, a sports club, or a school community. Families need these bonds to other families as well, regardless of what Pa in Little House on the Prairie seemed to think at times.
* This is the analogy of the Industrial Revolution’s vicious circle between Big Business and Big Labor: The less trust in humanity there is, the more rules crop up. And the more rules, the less people treat one another like humans, and so on. Centralization of the state weakens the ties between individuals, leaving individuals more isolated, and that isolation yields more centralization.
* Diversity makes trust and social capital harder to come by, social capital expert Robert Putnam found. In the short term, at least, “immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital.” In high-immigrant and high-diversity areas, “[t]rust (even of one’s own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.” That parenthetical information is key. Diversity doesn’t cause balkanization and clustering—that would imply that like would cling closer to like and shun the other. What Putnam found, after thirty thousand interviews, was that in more diverse places, everyone is more likely to distrust everyone else. “Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’—that is, to pull in like a turtle.”
* Most millennials who had children by 2016 had children out of wedlock. The rate was 55 percent according to a 2017 paper by Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox. Some millennial mothers later married the father of their children, while others didn’t. Wang and Wilcox found that the sequence mattered.
* Some liberal critics object that the “success sequence” is a lie and that poverty is really about just one of those steps: people with full-time jobs avoid poverty.But all the steps matter—16 percent of those who (a) graduate from high school and (b) have a full-time job are nevertheless in poverty. If you focus instead on those who followed the entire sequence—(a) graduate and (b) have a full-time job, (c) get married, and then (d) have babies—the poverty rate drops down to 3 percent.
* Marriage is more common among the elites, and the gap is growing. College-educated men are half as likely to get divorced as those who never went to college. In general, elites hew more to conservative lifestyles. Obviously, there are exceptions, but the median number of sexual partners for a college-educated American male born in the 1980s is four. The median for his non-college-educated peers is six.
* One study in Chicago found a depressing fact: Schools with the fewest low-income students score the highest on average. As the percentage of low-income students goes up, the test scores go down. The pattern holds true at every income level…
* But what if what the working class—white, black, Hispanic, etc.—needs most isn’t a check from the government but inclusion in community? And what if the most accessible form of community—the church—is under constant assault by both culture and the government? And finally, what if the elites frowning upon the deplorable poor won’t include them in their community, citing their deplorability?
* According to our analysis of the American Time Use Survey, spending two or more hours devoted to religious activity on a given Sunday had a stronger effect on life satisfaction than did making more than $75,000 per year.
* Recall Robert Putnam’s findings that diversity seems to undermine social cohesion. The strong communities we’ve discussed in this book all are fairly homogeneous in one way or another. Oostburg is Dutch American Christians. Kemp Mill is Orthodox Jewish. Chevy Chase is almost all white, college educated, and wealthy. Salt Lake City is mostly white and Mormon. You can find tight-knit black communities all over America, often built around Protestant churches. Same with Hispanic communities, and Polish or Russian neighborhoods.
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