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 remarcably 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). 16.5 millions are now economically inactive with 2.2 millions of them searching for job. This figure has been rising and some consider at least part of these people should be considered as unemployed. Unemployment was 7.9% in February, and it has been falling for some years, unlike illegitimacy, so here comes the first contradiction in Murray's argument.
Murray combines the statistics for illegitimacy and the number of persons in the social group V in different counties and finds a good correlation. This can mean that as the poor communities gather, the social pattern changes and a one-parent family will become a norm. The two-parent families will increasingly leave council houses, richer people will move out of the problem areas, this will affect local businesses, who can go to liquidation and squatting will occur in their premises etc.
Murray thinks these changes in the society are sensational and should not be ignored, but faced.
They have arisen due to wrong welfare policy discouraging the acceptance of low-paid jobs. The English society together with the public mood (the public idea that girls get pregnant deliberately to get a flat etc.) are also changing.
For example as the illegitimate boys grow up, they have no archetype to accept from a father and are more likely to have illegitimate children as their fathers did. It is hard for these 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 current welfare policy favours single parents and unemployed people. That will create a temptation for couples to remain secretly cohabiting, but not to marry, in order to live in a free council house and get benefits. But the mean life of cohabiting is 5 times less than that of marriages, so children in this case are more likely to be left with one parent.
This trend can be due to various Acts making the divorce easier and due to changing attitude towards marriage.
Murray 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.
One might predict that rich can afford to marry and split, but surprisingly the divorce rate is higher in group 5 leaving the state welfare policy the only thing to blame for illegitimacy.
On the basis of that Murray thinks that 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.
Another view supporting new class system is that 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 (the unemployment benefit being larger than the wage the poor can obtain when they are working) 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.
As a solution Murray simply thinks the two-parent family should be restored and the problems will solve by themselves. He reaches this decision from the comparison of todays world with Victorian era where divorce was impossible and thus illegitimacy was low. Then the crime was also low and so was unemployment, although it fluctuated quite widely.
Murray finds two possibilities to restore the two parent family: the minimalist solution is to make the benefits for married couples at least as large as those for married. This would not change the attitudes of people towards favouring the marriage and would be very expensive. Murray argues that the state cannot be in the position of giving aid to people as their parents and friends do, because state can be cheated very easily.
His second and more radical, so called maximalists' solution would be to economically penalise single women, so that they would demand marriage from men. This would mean removing the benefits altogether. As social group 5 is considering the marriage more from the economic grounds this policy should work effectively among them. He does not actually say that, but I got an impression that illegimate children would have to live in a very deep poverty and starve, possibly to death, so in theory it would solv the problem of next generation growing like their parents.
Murray thinks that the attainment of full employment should also increase marriages as males will become more attractive. There is a high correlation between unemployment and illegitimacy, but the recent statistics looking at changes in employment are not supporting that view.
Critics from professional social scientist, Prof. Pete Alcock and Prof. Miriam David, concentrate mainly on the simplicity and on the false use of the statistics in Murray's argument. The correlation between illegitimacy and economic inactivity does not necessary mean causation.
For example the unemployment is higher among elderly and illegitimacy among younger people. So it is false to combine them.
The growing trend in divorce doesn't necessary imply the unpopularity of marriage, but maybe the growing popularity of cohabitation. The number of children without a parent is rising much slower than the number of illegitimate children born.
Professor Pete Allock also points out that most of the illegitimate children are so due to a divorce. If their mothers would be penalised, yes the divorce rate will fall, but the marriage will lose its meaning!
The crime rate may also be higher amongst illegitimate children because they are poorer and need to steal the food.
Critics also think Murray is only looking at illegitimacy, which is simplistic, because things are more complex and involve many other things, including for example the rising level of overall poverty, exclusion from the society and economic recession. All these contributed also towards the unemployment and crime.
The punishment of illegitimacy could worsen the situation, because the decision for single parenthood is not always based on economic reasons and is not voluntary for most of the time.
Besides the policies Murray offers have been unsuccessfully tried before in 1930-s. And considering the forcing of males to marriage, Murray does not mention the Child Support Agency, that urged men to pay for their children's living etc. That agency failed because people's opinion did not like its radical approach.
The decision of whom to exclude from the benefits is an extremely hard one to make. The conservative government is already targeting the groups receiving benefits more precisely, the critics say this is done just to reduce the number of people in poverty.
Critics, specially the columnist Melanie Philips and the Director of the National Council of One-Parent families, Sue Slipman, consider the comparison with the Victorian era to be irrelevant, because the state of technology, economic prospects and many other things were different.
They are also suspicious about the comparison between UK and USA, because Murray has not done enough research. The statistics showing growing difference between upper and lower classes are made up by Murray based only indirect evidence from US. The difference in UK might not be that big.
Murray is with an extreme right wing attitude in this case and uses his subjective view, whereas social trends should be looked at more objective side.
The policies Murray offers won't work in the short run, because it takes time to change people's attitudes. During that time the mothers unmarried at present will have to live in poverty and their children would suffer most. 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.
(please write what else have i missed out precisely (eg which stats etc.) thanks)