America has long embraced “traditional values” such as marriage, honesty, hard work and religion. Unfortunately, acceptance of these deep-rooted values has steadily dissolved. Over the last 50 years we have seen much of our common civic culture disintegrate. Social science shows that this abandonment of America’s common cultural values and standards of morality has occurred among and negatively affected some groups more than others. This growing moral divide has both vast social and economic consequences.
In Charles Murray’s recent book, dramatically titled Coming Apart, Murray shows how society has changed in recent decades. For purposes of illustration he creates two neighborhoods which reflect how some vital societal changes have played out. “Fishtown,” is where the “new lower class” lives, characterized not by poverty, but by a withdrawal from the traditional American culture and values. “Belmont” is the “new upper middle/working class” neighborhood.” Fishtown’s residents have no academic degree beyond a high-school diploma. If they work at all, it is at a blue-collar job, a low-skill service job, or low-level white collar job such as a mail clerk. Belmont consists of college-educated individuals working in upper level management positions or professional careers.
Murray’s study demonstrates shocking longitudinal changes that have occurred within the two groups from 1960 to 2010. His findings (see charts below) speak volumes about a growing cultural gap:
Marriage rates in Fishtown have dropped from 84% to 48% since 1960. The percentage of children born to unmarried women in this group is just as startling. The non-marital birthrate among this group has gone from 6% in 1970 to 65.4% for those without a high-school diploma. Women with a college degree today have a non-marital birthrate of less than 6%.
One out of every eight males from Fishtown has said they are “not available to work.” Only 3% of males with a college degree are out of the work force. In the mid 90’s the crime rate among the Fishtown population rose to over six times from 1960 and today it’s still 4.7 times higher than it was in the sixties. Historically, poverty may have left the population of Fishtown clinging to religious beliefs, yet the data shows secularism in Fishtown has increased by 21%.
The erosion of societal values impacts not just the moral fabric of our nation, but has direct economic consequences as well. Paul Mero, the President of the Sutherland Institute, persuasively elaborates on this same topic here.
Apart from the moral implications of these data, government costs--meaning taxpayer burdens--will become even more burdened as the cycle of unemployment, welfare, and dependency becomes chronic for an unsustainably large and growing number of Americans. This one statistic speaks as a chilling harbinger of bad things to come: Two-thirds of children born in Fishtowns across America will be born to single women. This fact alone will virtually guarantee that these millions of children will grow up dependent, poorly-educated, and with little opportunity for success.
People used to speak of the “American way of life” by talking about a culture and heritage of shared values. The growing moral and social divide between classes should give us great pause, and provoke a national discussion about how we can re-claim those who have strayed from our common heritage back to an America which holds strong families, work, self-made opportunity, education, and personal responsibility as its bedrock values.
 Murray, Charles. (2012) Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010