Sociology

Bourgeois Bias

As economic inequality grows, cultural differences are making the gap even harder to bridge, argues David Brooks:

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

Brooks, of course, wrote one of the defining books on what it means to be upper-middle class in America, with Bobos in Paradise back in 2000.

That said, it’s ridiculous to say that “structural barriers…are less important than the informal social barriers.” The financial, political, and racial disadvantages built into our society are far more difficult to overcome than challenges in choosing the right sandwich at the deli. But all of them are important.

When privilege kills

What’s behind the increased rate of deaths from suicide, drug abuse, and heart disease for middle-aged white Americans? According to Nobel Prize winning economists Case and Deaton, it might be that they’re just not able to fulfill their own expectations:

Most of the increase in white deaths is concentrated among those who never finished college. These are the same people who have been pummeled by the economy in recent decades…

White American men without a college degree still earn 36 percent more than their black counterparts. But the death rate among less-educated black Americans has actually been decreasing…

Case and Deaton believe that white Americans may be suffering from a lack of hope. The pain in their bodies might reflect a “spiritual” pain caused by “cumulative distress, and the failure of life to turn out as expected.”

Maybe Calvin had it right after all: