Your Thoughts on the Bubble Quiz

BY Paul Solman  April 3, 2012 at 12:33 PM EST

Bubbles
Creative commons photo courtesy flickr user Smaku.

A bevy of emails have inundated our inbox since we first posted Charles Murray’s popular quiz, “Do You Live In a Bubble?” and its attempt to ascertain users’ socio-economic status (and that of their parents) in 25 questions based on lifestyle, pop culture and habits. The quiz was followed up by Murray himself, answering some of your questions on this page, and Paul Solman’s full interview with the author, plus extras (including Murray’s thoughts on everything from Downton Abbey to America’s “class society”) that didn’t make it into the final segment. Paul addresses a portion of these emails here.

Tom McDonald: I scored 57, which according to the summary means that I’m a “first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents and average television and movie going habits.” But of all the TV shows listed I only watch one (House), and of all the movies listed I’ve only seen one (The King’s Speech). My father was a physician, I haven’t eaten at any of those restaurants in the last year, and I also don’t smoke or drink cheap beer. Even though I’ve worked most of my life as a college professor, apparently the fact that I’ve worked manual labor, lettered in varsity sports, hitchhiked, drive a pickup truck, and have friends who smoke and have diverse religious and political views puts me into that category. I knew both Bransons, but could only pick one.

Paul Solman: Yes, I too felt a bit guilty about scoring a point for “King’s Speech” and said so to Murray. He reassured me that it met his strictly mechanical criterion: highest-grossing movies of the year.

As for your out-of-the-bubble rating, Tom, those friends are probably the key. Plus, you live in Arizona. Why don’t you ask your friends to take the test? I’d be curious how they score.

Deborah: My score was pretty close to yours [Editor's Note: Paul scored a 31]; working class parents; first to go to college; didn’t see any of the movies or TV shows listed. I’m a PBS fanatic and do donate as much as possible to keep PBS on the air.

Paul Solman: All I can say is, whatever your score: Thanks. At one point in his book, Murray suggests that watching the PBS NewsHour characterizes those in the bubble echelon. I would beg to differ. But then, I guess I’m biased.

Les Davaz: Score: 55. I will read the book and enjoyed the interview and film report. Food for thought for you: my kids and I would live in a bubble now if not for the overwhelming influence of two things very common to many Americans. 1) my father was a career military officer — this was a leveling experience, but not without its social distinctions and relative advantages at the same time. 2) I paid my way through college. You may want to look at these statistically.

Paul Solman: Yes, the military was long one of America’s great levelers. Perhaps the end of the draft has something to do with our “coming apart.”

John D’Amato: The elite are clueless to the lives of the un-elite and vice versa, no?

Paul Solman: That’s what Murray thinks. And that both would be better off if they were not clueless.

Shirley Cheatham: I took the quiz, and wonder if age or income had anything to do with results.

Paul Solman: Income almost surely does. The more you have, the more you can “isolate” yourself from the common culture. What’s interesting about Murray’s quiz is the extent to which it makes upper-crusters think about the downside of such isolation.

GG: The quiz shows some bias to men. Child care or health care can be as hard physical work as farming. Also, the quiz ignores non-bubble experiences, such as volunteering, social service, education.

Paul Solman: Good points.

Gavin: I was wondering why I scored a 26 on the bubble test. I answered each question to the best of my knowledge, and I feel like I have a more social lifestyle than what my score indicates. I go to college, talk to people all day and check my Facebook daily. So why is this still the score I got?

Paul Solman: Because you don’t watch “Jersey Shore,” perhaps? But that may not explain it: I know who Snooki is, have even YouTubed the attack on her, and I scored a lame 31.

Bill Morris: What score does Charles Murray get on his quiz?

Paul Solman: When I interviewed him, he acknowledged that my score of 31 was not high, then said, by way of consolation I think: “But you know, I think I was 48 — something like that.” In other words, even though he comes from Middle America (non-urban Iowa), not that high, either.

This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown- NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.