It’s long been a trope of the “culture war” that the rich as social and religious libertines while the stolid middle class cling to traditional values. Or, as another portion of America sees it, that the educated elite have moved beyond the primative and prejudices social mores of the past while the uneducated cling to their guns and their religion. I would venture to say that for many of us reading here this may also to a stereotype which fits with our lived experience.
However, a report out from the Institute for American Values stands this set of stereotypes somewhat on its head, showing a educated elite which is going to church more and sleeping around less, while the broad middle class is going to church less, having more children out of wedlock and getting divorced more often.
One thing to keep in mind in looking at this is that the report’s definition of the broad middle class is all those adults who have completed high school but have not completed a four year college degree (people with just a high school diploma, an AA or “some college”). This makes up 58% of the US population — something which I find myself liable to forget since not getting at bachelor’s degree was virtually unthinkable in my family. Both my parents had been the first in their families to earn college degrees and they believed very strongly in the importance of higher education. But while Dad’s community college staff salary (plus 1-2 part time side jobs at a given time) put us squarely in the middle of the population by income demographic, this survey would have put us in the “highly educated” upper class — those with a four year college degree or beyond, making up roughly 30% of the US population. The “less educated” in this study are composed of those without a high school diploma. Thus, this is playing somewhat outside the set of class definitions which I normally think in terms of — which realistically are more like sub-divisions of the middle and upper middle classes.
Still, the data is fairly startling and speaks well for itself, which given a lack of time this morning, I will let it do.
Percentage of people who say they consider pre-marital sex to be “always wrong” by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:
Percentage of women who bear children out of wedlock by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:
Percentage of people aged 25 to 70 who are in an intact first marriage by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:
Percentage of people who say divorces should be made more difficult to obtain by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:
Percentage of people who “almost always” attend religious services at least once a week by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:
I’m trying to formulate what this tells us about the state of our culture, but it’s certainly interesting. Thoughts?
[Updated to correct dropped chart titles]