Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart offers a thought-provoking commentary on class in contemporary America. Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, the book demonstrates that a new upper class, who live in hyper-wealthy zip codes called SuperZIPS, and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad. In the below essay, Murray discusses trends that have occurred since 2010.
I began the discussion of the SuperZips with a promise to update the results in later editions of Coming Apart when the 2010 census results became available. Those results were published from December 2011 through the spring of 2012. This is the story they tell:
My expectation that Asians would increase their presence in the SuperZips was borne out: From 2000 to 2010, the proportion of Asians in SuperZips rose by half, from 8 to 12 percent of people living in SuperZips. These are extraordinary numbers for an ethnic group that still constituted fewer than 5 percent of the national population in 2010. The ratio of Asians in SuperZips to Asians in the population as a whole is 2.6 to 1.
Meanwhile, the percentage of whites in the SuperZips declined from 82 percent in 2000 to 74 percent, a substantial reduction. In one sense, this means an increase in the ethnic diversity of America’s elites. But the unusual status of Asians in American life that I noted earlier in this chapter—their status since around the 1960 as “honorary whites”—clouds the situation. In terms of minorities considered to be disadvantaged, black representation in the SuperZips grew from 3 to 4 percent and Latino representation from 3 to 6 percent. Whites plus Asians constituted 90 percent of the SuperZips’ population in 2000 and 86 percent in 2010.
Concentration of Overeducated Elitist Snobs in the SuperZips
In the original version of this chapter, I used the sample of 14,317 graduates of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale as my proxy for assessing the concentration of overeducated elitist snobs in the SuperZips. I did not address whether that concentration had increased over time. Here, I add a new analysis, based on the variation in the years in which the members graduated (from 1964 to 1991), the years in which we learned their home zip codes (from 1989 to 2010), and their ages at the time they reported those zip codes (from 40 to 52). The new question I am asking is: After statistically controlling for these variables, how did the probability that a graduate of those three schools lived in a SuperZip change from 1989 to 2010?
It rose. The probability that someone in the Harvard-Princeton-Yale sample lived in a SuperZip at age 45 increased from 39 percent in 1989 to 47 percent in 2010. The SuperZips are distinguished not just by simple measures of income and college education, nor just by their historic attraction to graduates of elite schools, but by the increasing concentration of graduates of elite schools in those zip codes. It is a phenomenon that implies continuing increases in the cultural distance between the residents of SuperZips and mainstream America.
Concentration of SuperZips in the Big Four Metropolitan Areas
I noted earlier that an extremely high proportion of members of the narrow elite—people with national influence—live in what I have called the “Big Four” metropolitan areas associated with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. It appears that the highest-status zip codes are becoming more concentrated in the Big Four as well. The percentage of all Americans who live in the Big Four fell by half a percentage point from 2000 to 2010 (to 15.1 percent). Over the same decade, the percentage of people who live in SuperZips who are also located in the Big Four grew from 43 to 47 percent. This too represents a longer-term trend. In 1980, just 40 percent of people who lived in SuperZips were located in the Big Four.
By far the biggest gainer of SuperZip residents was the Washington metropolitan area, followed by New York. Los Angeles had a modest increase in its proportion of SuperZips residents. San Francisco and the Silicon Valley corridor did not increase their percentage of SuperZip residents during the decade.
The Elite Bubbles
The elite bubbles—clusters of contiguous SuperZips—have continued to grow. On page 89, I show a map of the SuperZips clustered around Washington, DC, based on the 2000 census. If that map were redrawn based on the 2010 census, there would be a lot more black on it—in some of the downtown DC zip codes, filling some of the previous gaps to the north and northeast of the District of Columbia, and especially filling gaps to the west. Just about all of the grey-shaded zip codes to the west of the District of Columbia have turned black, and newly black zip codes continue westward off the edge of the map. In all, the DC cluster added more than half a million people from 2000 to 2010. This single SuperZip bubble now consists of 93 zip codes and a population of 1.7 million people.
In Manhattan, the number of SuperZips grew from 19 in 2000 to 28 in 2010. All of Manhattan south of 96th street is a mass of SuperZips with a few exceptions in the theatre district, near the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Tribeca area (which barely missed at centile 94). A separate small bubble of SuperZips formed in fashionable parts of Brooklyn.
The suburban bubbles surrounding New York City have expanded so that they are nearly joined, with only minor gaps in a semi-circle that runs from Fairfield, Connecticut through Westchester County and across the Hudson, extending south to Princeton, New Jersey, plus more isolated bubbles on the north shore of Long Island and, of all places, Hoboken, New Jersey. In all, the bubbles in the New York
metropolitan area contain 202 zip codes, with a population of 2.7 million, up from 169 zip codes and 2.4 million in 2000.
Other elite bubbles that saw significant growth during the decade, defined as an increase of more than 40,000 population living in contiguous SuperZips, were in the San Diego area, separate clusters in downtown Seattle and nearby Bellevue, suburbs to the west of Boston, suburbs to the west of Houston, and suburbs to the west and north of Columbus, Ohio. The bubbles that lost more than 40,000 in population during the decade were Ann Arbor, Michigan, the North Shore of Chicago, suburbs to the west of Chicago, and suburbs south of Denver. The unrivaled leader among shrinking bubbles was the cluster of suburbs in the Bloomfield area to the northwest and north of Detroit, which saw a loss of more than 91,000 people living in SuperZips.
So that’s the update from 2000 to 2010. Nothing surprising happened. All of the trends that were established by 2000 continued unabated. America’s elites continued to sort themselves into enclaves, with graduates of the elite schools increasingly congregating in SuperZips. The enclaves surrounding the two most powerful cities in the nation, Washington and New York, already the largest in 2000, grew the most.
Charles Murray is the W.H Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1985 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, and Real Education. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.
Also by Charles Murray: Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality and What It Means to Be a Libertarian.