The Thinking 

Are the “Highly-Educated” Suddenly Conservative?

December 13, 2010


IN AN interview at National Review Online, W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and one of the authors of its latest report, “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America,” makes this point:

So, we are witnessing a striking reversal in American life where highly educated Americans are more likely to be connected to the religious and moral sources of a strong marriage culture than their fellow citizens from middle America.

This gives the false impression that America’s elites are embracing traditional values. The truth is, a college education has simply become more common. As was discussed in this previous entry, the bourgeois middle class is now “highly educated.” Meanwhile our true elites remain enemies of bourgeois America and the traditional family, as is abundantly apparent from the constant celebration of feminism and sexual liberation in mainstream culture and academia. Our intelligentsia constantly prod the less fortunate toward radical liberation for the sheer adolescent thrill of it all.


                                                                                  — Comments —

Josh F. writes:

I think another thing about the highly educated staying “married” is  that as a couple they are acutely aware of all the financial benefits that may accrue in contracting with the state. Many of these elite can  be publicly “married” while live privately liberated. It’s financially wiser for all. That the middle class cannot or will not make such business arrangements does not to me necessarily suggest  lower intelligence, rather, it suggests either a greater reverence for  real marriage or the very real destructive nature of its dissolution.

Brendan writes:

I think that your idea is basically right: there is a tendency to conflate “elite” with “educated.” The marriage statistics suggest the highest marital stability ( in terms of relative divorce rates) among dual-educated wage earning couples. However, these are generally not the “elites.” For the most part, these are “strivers” — people who are educated and work for a living, often hard, to pay for their homes and families and so on. They have the same “bourgeois” middle class values of hard work and thrift that the middle class always had, and they are not, in any meaningful sense, “elites”, regardless of what they may actually earn.

The “elites,” on the other hand, are the very small number of people who are super-rich and/or super-powerful, either politically, economically or culturally. That class of elites has a very different set of mores, in terms of family life, than the well-earning strivers do. And while it’s a very small slice of the population, it casts a wide shadow due to its cultural influence, exercised through the media and universities and so on. It tends to not impact the high-earning strivers as much, because this group tends to keep its eye on the ball, in terms of work, family and so on. But for the broader population, the influence is substantial.

Another aspect of what is happening is that what was formerly the middle class is dividing, essentially, along educational lines. The “educated” slice of this is going on to become the high-earning (or high enough earning) strivers who have a stable family life, while the “less educated” slice is not forming families and is experiencing a disproportionate level of economic sliding and social disruption.

Laura writes:

When the National Marriage Project speaks of the “highly-educated,” it is referring to those with degrees, not necessarily those who are educated in the classic sense of the term, as was pointed out in the previous discussion. Even though the value of a college education has declined enormously, it still takes initiative and intelligence to obtain a college degree.

The middle class is dividing partly because of the decline in male earning power with the loss of industry and low-skill jobs. But the phenomenon is not purely economic. The pride a man might formerly have had in supporting his family and in securing the exclusive loyality of a woman  even in poverty is not there. Here again, we see how the loss of patriarchal values hurts the less powerful segments of society, and the least powerful man, the most. All in all, patriarchy, contrary to its reputation as tainted and evil because it secures rewards for high-status men, protects the ordinary man and his dependents.  

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