Custom Search

C. Murray. Underclass: The Crisis Deepens

Charles Murray is an American writer and researcher in the field of public policy. His predictions of the worsening situation of the welfare state were quite true for US and now he is applying the same ideas to UK.

He publicised his first book in 1989 based on 1987 and this second in 1994 based on 1992, both were published in the Sunday times. The response for the recent article is more favourable.

He concentrates on the British underclass and mainly on three aspects: crime, economic inactivity and illegitimacy. The latter is his main concern although he points out that the crime rate is rising at about 40% per 5 years and economic inactivity rose as well from 9.6% to 13.3% in 5 years (among men). He thinks that is due to wrong welfare policy discouraging the acceptance of low-paid jobs. The English society together with the public mood (girls getting pregnant deliberately to get a flat etc.) are also changing.

Murray thinks the class system in England will change dramatically (although he did some miscalculations in interpreting the present one) leaving upper middle class in better shape (he calls them New Victorians) and forming the New Rabble from lower classes. The statistics show that the illegitimacy is much higher in social class 5 than in class 1 when comparing the illegitimacy in districts with higher proportion manual workers with those of lower proportion. The trend can be due to various Acts making the divorce easier and due to changing attitude towards marriage.

To fight for this he suggests that the changes should be faced and the policy should be changed to encourage marriage.

He quotes the statistics that show how illegitimacy has reached to 30% in a very short time after 1960-s. By comparing English to American blacks he suggests that by 2003 50% of the marriages should be out of wedlock. He then goes on to predict that the illegitimacy among lower classes is already bigger than the statistics show and it will rise exponentially whereas the rise in illegitimacy among class 1 will level off.

The statistics also show a rise in divorces and a fall in first marriages (one partner was married before). The cohabitation in the same time is rising leaving. Most of the children still born to couples living together(86%), but the mean length of cohabitation appears to be 5 times less (2 years against 10) than that of marriages ending in divorce (most marriages don't). Murray concludes that marriage should be the norm.

Some studies also show how cohabiting mothers are more likely to be poorly educated, live in council houses and get a poor salary. Unfortunately these studies do not tell anything about the child.

One might predict that rich can afford to marry and split, but surprisingly the divorce rate is higher in group 5 leaving the state policy the only thing to blame for illegitimacy.

It is hard for the illegitimate children to break out of the vicious circle as the illegitimacy seems to concentrate in particular districts and the society in these districts is shaped differently.

The changes in society have been irreversible and although the marriage appears to be the most satisfying way to live it has been under attack from cultural sides (feminism) and from material side (more expensive to raise children). That is why Murray favours New Rabble and New Victorians: the cultural aspects are shortly passing fashion while the material aspects affect the poor most. The fashion passes and after a while marriage is popular again. The rich will marry, but poor will calculate the costs that rise due to reduction in benefits and stay cohabiting.

No data supports this view, although it is more likely that poor parents will be faced with poverty trap and they are more likely to cheat the welfare system as the returns in percentage terms are higher. At present it seems economically stupid to marry.

Murray predicts that the cost of illegitimacy for the future behaviour of a child, will multiply as the illegitimacy raises, meaning that the crime will start rising quicker as more illegitimate children will be born. Illegitimacy will also cost money as those children are more likely to become drug additives and give births to illegitimate children that need support. They will know no other way to live and young males will "sleep with and impregnate as many girls s possible". Murray thinks boys can only be civilised by marriage and must have father as a model of how to live.

Murray blames everything on the perverse welfare policy discouraging marriage. The two solutions Murray offers are first to make the benefits for married at least as much as the best outcome for people not married(minimalist solution). This is very expensive and will not change the attitudes of people. Second choice would be to penalise single mothers (maximalist solution) to make them demand marriage from the fathers. This view is supported by the fact that people make decisions to married based on short term: if they get benefits for not marring they will not consider the future of their child. The two-parent family is the key issue for all the problems.

He thinks that state cannot give help to people in need as their friends do, because there is temptation to cheat the state. Policy has to be changed now, because number of people claiming benefit rises quickly.

Murray thinks that the attainment of full employment should increase marriages as there is high correlation between unemployment and illegitimacy (males will become more attractive), but the recent statistics do not support that view.

Critics from professional social scientist concentrate mainly on the simplicity and on the false use of the statistics in Murray's argument. For example unemployment is among elderly and illegitimacy is among younger people. The growing trend in divorce doesn't imply the unpopularity of marriage and the crime rate is only higher amongst illegitimate children because they are poorer.

They also think Murray is only looking at on point of view(illegitimacy), whereas the thing is more complex and involves the level of poverty and exclusion from the society. The punishment of illegitimacy could worsen the thing, because the decisions for it are not always based on economic reasons and voluntary. Selective benefit is extremely hard to set and already at present not all women are receiving benefit. Besides the policies Murray offers have been unsuccessfully tried before (1930-s). The forcing of  fathers to marriage has been tried by the Child Support Agency (Murray does not mention).

The correlation between illegitimacy and economic inactivity does not necessary mean causation,

The comparison with the Victorian era is irrelevant. The same can apply to the comparison between UK and USA, because Murray has not done enough research and is too subjective.

Critics are also suspicious about the fact that the trend is only happening in lower classes and that the welfare state causes it.

The policies Murray offers won't work in the short run. Besides it can be argued that present situation is temporary, because women have become feminists and men are left a bit behind in their fight for their rights. As soon as men will find their correct place in marriage through cooperation, the tension releases and the social attitude for marriage will improve by itself.

Click here to see more economics,politics and school papers from me