Whaddya want, more COMMONERS in the world?

He has been writing an important series on culture, class and the decline of marriage on his blog, but Ross Douthat’s latest column in the New York Times is getting a lot of attention, as it is a rather thoughtful look at the propensity of Ivy-League alums to seek out Ivy-League mates, and how it affects the nation:

Of course Ivy League schools double as dating services. Of course members of elites — yes, gender egalitarians, the males as well as the females — have strong incentives to marry one another, or at the very least find a spouse from within the wider meritocratic circle. What better way to double down on our pre-existing advantages? What better way to minimize, in our descendants, the chances of the dread phenomenon known as “regression to the mean”?

That this “assortative mating,” in which the best-educated Americans increasingly marry one another, also ends up perpetuating existing inequalities seems blindingly obvious, which is no doubt why it’s considered embarrassing and reactionary to talk about it too overtly. We all know what we’re supposed to do — our mothers don’t have to come out and say it!

I think Douthat is mostly right about the meritocracy resembling the British peerage, who strove to admit no persons of dubious consequence into their circles. To some extent, our American upper classes are le bon ton, forever bound to Almack’s, dancing in step, both metaphorically and literally; perpetuating the marriage mart to ensure that either class and/or property — preferably both — are preserved or enlarged. Ivies are part of that.

Then again, my non-Ivy son is dating an Ivy alum who doesn’t personify the mold Douthat describes here:

The “holistic” approach to admissions. . .has two major consequences: It enforces what looks suspiciously like de facto discrimination against Asian applicants with high SAT scores, while disadvantaging talented kids — often white and working class and geographically dispersed — who don’t grow up in elite enclaves with parents and friends who understand the system. The result is an upper class that looks superficially like America, but mostly reproduces the previous generation’s elite.

Still, it is demonstrably true that there are mechanisms in place to keep the privileged ensconced within their high hedges while promoting “a form of student-body “diversity” that’s mostly cosmetic, designed to flatter multicultural sensibilities without threatening existing hierarchies all that much.”

This is of-a-piece with the fact that those politicians and mediafolk who loudly promote public schools and decry vouchers for urban youths trapped in terrible schools are the very same folks who send their children to private, exclusive schools where diversity is “celebrated”, but only amongst the correct sorts of families — monied, powerful and protected, often by armed guards. If comments highlighted at this Gawker article (Warning:Language) are indicative, the upper-crustish don’t particularly like being exposed having to rub elbows with the rougher elements.

“[Why would an] English major share his/her love of literature with an uneducated bank teller… a math professor with a beautician?”

Good heavens! What could ones such as us possibly have to say to, erm…persons such as they?” Had sad. I knew an 18 year-old bank teller who read Proust on her breaks. Oh, wait. That was me.

I could see where a math professor might like very much to date the woman who cuts hair, owns a stable that corrals horses and oh yeah, loves to cook, if only he would first deign to speak to such a lowly creature!

The elitism is also of a piece with this extraordinarily Margaret-Sanger-esque rant from this angry and uppity woman destroying pro-life material on the campus of Ohio State University while demanding to know, “You want an overpopulated Earth? “You want to keep paying taxes for babies that are born to crackheads?…You really want a population of people that were born on drugs? That are born into welfare? You want to keep paying for that shit?”

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Her response to those graphic images, which I don’t particularly like to see used (and I’m not going to get into yet another argument about that, so save your breath for your porridge) is to argue that there are inferior sorts of people who ought not to be born, because they are a drain on the larger society and are a diluting threat to the “better” classes. That’s right out of Margaret Sanger’s playbook.

Sanger, of course, is the eugenicist (beloved of Katie Couric, and her ilk), who declared, (among other things):

We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. And we do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.


All of our problems are the result of overbreeding among the working class, and if morality is to mean anything at all to us, we must regard all the changes which tend toward the uplift and survival of the human race as moral.


Eugenics is … the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems.

This seems like very illiberal thinking, to me. It also seems to reduce people to mere things. So it may be sinful thinking, too.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds from Instapundit suggests that our ruling classes are not particularly bright.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.usmc.mil S. Murphy

    “[Why would an] English major share his/her love of literature with an uneducated bank teller… a math professor with a beautician?”

    After a BA in Classics from the Univ of Chicago (my roomate joked that I didn’t have a right to be there because I hadn’t given the Ivies the opportunity to reject me) and then an MA in same from a, heaven forbid, state school – point is, I was around people who had or ended up with PhDs in Classics, as well as undergrad friends who went on to become Math professors – I can honestly say that after 14 years in the Marine Corps, some of the most interesting minds I’ve ever met have been hiding behind innocuous-looking chevrons, with undergrad degrees earned online, or not at all, and only sometimes from brick-and-mortar joints, of name or not. The English major could do a lot worse …
    Then, there was the time my uncle heard two guys on a construction scaffold talking about Socrates…

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  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    Assortative mating has been a growing phenomenon at least since the end of WW2. I agree it’s a problem, but have no idea what might be done about it. In the meantime, I worry that smart-marrying-smart may produce, ummm, dysgenic results over the long run.

  • Mike

    Wasn’t that what the European royal families would do? Marry each other to keep it in the fold? I agree it is a problem of sorts but to be honest I am not sure how much of a problem it really is; afterall we’re still only talking about a tiny percentage of the population.

  • Theodore Seeber

    And only a tiny percentage of the population, Mike, controls the world.

    It only takes one man to do evil, unchecked, for evil to reign.

  • Alexander Anderson

    As a “commoner” (It’s very hard for me to write that, considering the fact that I have a bachelor’s in philosophy from a state school, will begin law school in the fall, can tease out the meaning of both Latin and Greek texts, and have neither parents or grandparents who really hurt for money) I very much appreciate this from Douthat. It points out a self-perpetuating Ruling Class that, really, is on stilts. And the worst part is the deception, even the self-deception. Call yourself an aristocracy if you are going to act like one!

  • Birthday girl

    @Christian … it is my own personal hypothesis that this is one of the reasons for the explosion of autism and Asperger like conditions in the last generation. You always had your eccentrics, but now the marginally-attractive smart nerds who likely wouldn’t have married at all in bygone days are meeting each other at college … and producing variable results. My spouse and I are a classic example of such. Our son is an Aspie who will be a mathematician or computer genius of some kind, and I wonder whether he is “too far out there” to marry. Our daughter, just as smart but definitely not an Aspie, wants to be a hair stylist, and I have advised her to marry outside out ethnic group to dilute whatever genetic thing might be going on there. But then, we’re not Ivy, so maybe it doesn’t count.

  • Ornithophobe

    @Birthday girl: You may be right about the links between geek-to-geek marriage and the rise of autism spectrum disorders; Wired Magazine’s “Geek Syndrome” article some decade ago was the first time I’d encountered the theory… but since then, I’ve noticed how many of my son’s fellow aspies have sets of very bright, not-very-social parents. Programmers and Professors, everywhere. My exhusband is in IT. I’m a language geek (with a perseverating interest in historical linguistics,) but I come from a long line of self-taught machine geeks. (Mechanics, typesetters, machine designers, still builders, etc.) … not the usual thing you think of when you think “educated”, since most of them weren’t. But basically, people who liked machines better than other people. After investigating my family history, I’m 99% sure that my son’s AS is down to genetics, not environment…I hope he marries some sweet girl who hasn’t a thought in her head beyond what to cook for dinner. (She’ll need to, as he routinely forgets to eat. ) If he marries a fellow programmer, I fear for my putative grandkids.

  • FW Ken

    College is always the Newlyweds Game waiting to happen. I think all of my college friends who married met their match at our school. One friend’s parents met there as well. Many the questions popped on the front porch of Laura Kuykendall Hall.

    At any rate, I don’t assume that because Muffy and Bobby go to an Ivy League School, they are particularly smart. It’s like that girl in Auntie Mame running around talking about people being “absolutely top drawer”. Let them have their little world: the interesting people are out here running loose.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I think it’s even simpler than what Douthat or you claim. It’s not so much a class thing, it’s a sub-culture thing. People in college tend to have a different cultural mindset than people who don’t go to college. And people in Ivy League schools have their own sub-cultural mindset. The old adage applies: “Birds of a feather flock together.” Yeah, I guess that’s elitism, but it’s not a conscious motivation to seek out your own sub-cultural type, as eletism would suggest. It’s a less-than-conscious reaction of feeling comfortable with one’s own type. Not sure I made myself clear, but my mind is too tired to expound any further. ;)

  • Paulus

    I’m all for construction workers who debate Socrates and bank tellers who read Proust (heck, I’ve never read Proust). I just wish there were more of them.

    I’m living another side of this story. I forced myself to marry someone with no intellectual interests whatsoever for a complex mass of reasons, chief among them my telling myself, “You greedy elitist prig, how dare you make this poor girl unhappy by breaking up with her just because you’ve never had and probably never will have a single interesting conversation with her?” Ironically we’re about as inbred as you can get in the sense that we both come from the same rural enclave and the same high school, it’s just that I was the valedictorian and went away to school on a scholarship, while she was the girl staring out the window and doodling and silently begging for math class to end. We were both terrible at relationships in different ways, met up in our late 20s, and I forced myself to pretend to like her and “rescue” her from living in her parents’ house for the rest of their lives.

    Why do I bother telling you this? Because it’s one thing to criticize people for refusing to consider potential spouses from lower socioeconomic classes–although even that is hardly a crime–and another to criticize people for refusing to marry intellectual peers. I turn 34 this month, and I have a long damn way to drag this cross yet. I don’t wish this cornice of purgatory on anyone, and my wife would tell you the same thing.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny


    Oh come on Paulus. There must be something you can form a basis of a marriage on. Intellectual conversation is way over rated. I don’t have any intellectual conversations with my wife. That grows old and repeatative. On the other hand we find common interests. A marriage requires reassertion every few years. No matter how similar a couple at 25 may be, they will grow apart (call it entropy) if they don’t make a effort to find new common interests every few years. Look hard. I’m sure you can find a basis for build love on.

  • Paulus

    There are different kinds of people in the world. You are clearly a different kind from me. So is my wife. Just because talking about books or rocks or history or cosmology or statistics…grows rapidly unfulfilling for you doesn’t mean that I can do particularly well without it. It takes all types, but they shouldn’t marry willy-nilly.

  • Knower

    Abraham Lincoln once said (or wrote), in a statement which to me has overtones of “Deus Caritas est”, that God must love common people very much, seeing He made so many of them.

  • Birthday girl

    @Ornithophobe … thank you … yes, that’s my family, too … a whole generation of engineers, before that plant engineer (omni-mechanical guy), farmers (have to be mechanical & creative jerry-riggers), pipefitters, etc. And so many of these guys were non-social types … it’s so obvious when you know what to look for … now we are programmers …