What Charles Murray Thinks of Your Bubble Score

BY Paul Solman  July 27, 2012 at 3:36 PM EDT

Paul Solman and Charles Murray
Paul Solman interviews author Charles Murray about his book “Coming Apart” at a local diner near Murray’s hometown of Burkittsville, Md.

Within just a few days, more than 2000 of you have responded to the “Do I Live In a Bubble?” quiz, submitting your final scores. We’ve been tallying them live as they arrive, posting the numbers for all to see. We end Quiz Week with the author of the quiz, conservative author Charles Murray, whom we first interviewed in March about his new book on white inequality in America, “Coming Apart,” from which the quiz was extracted. Murray has appeared several times on this page, answering questions and commenting further. Today, he takes a look at our numbers and tells us what he makes of them.

> Charles Murray: Data! As anyone who reads my stuff knows, I love data, and the people at Making Sen$e just sent me a spreadsheet with 2,088 scores on my Bubble Quiz that appeared on its website during the last week.

There’s not a lot I can do with the numbers, sadly, because I don’t have any way of knowing exactly how the self-selection factors skew the sample. But here’s the way that the numbers broke down for 2,088 people who ended up at the NewsHour website and have the patience to take a 25-question quiz.

We have something quite close to a normal distribution — not perfect, but close — as you can see from the graphic. The median was 41 and the mean was 41.8. That kind of score is likely to be produced by a person in the upper-middle class who grew up in a working-class or middle-class home. If you got 41 or higher, it is unlikely you grew up in the upper-middle class. It’s possible, but only if you go to a lot more popular movies, watch a lot more television, and have lived in funkier places than most people who grow up in the upper-middle class.

src="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/ms_logo_homepage_blog_horizontal.gif"
width="92" height="92" alt="Making Sense" />

To me, one of the most important danger signs of being in a bubble in reality (not just on your score) is having grown up in an upper-middle class environment and never having known what life in a middle-class or working-class neighborhood is like. What percentage of the sample fits that description? Ten percent of the sample have scores of 21 or lower, which is extremely likely to mean an upper-middle-class childhood. More than a third have scores of 34 or less, which makes them likely candidates as well. Add in the ones who had higher scores but nonetheless grew up in the upper-middle class, and I’d estimate that somewhere around 40 percent of the sample is in the upper-middle-class-childhood danger zone, and well over half are in the upper middle class as adults.

Charles Murray
Charles Murray at his home office.

How many of the sample are from the working class? More guesswork is involved, but only a quarter of the sample had scores of 53 or higher, and only 10 percent had scores of 63 or higher. I’d be surprised if the proportion of those living in the working class amounted to even 10 percent of the total sample.

People ask a lot, so I’ll come clean: My own score was 57. My father was a Maytag executive, so that means I grew up in the upper-middle-class, but my score is jacked up by having grown up in a small town, with neighbors who didn’t have college degrees, going to a public high school that served the entire town, having held jobs that made a body part hurt at the end of the day, having returned to live in a small, middle-class/working-class town in rural Maryland as an adult, and enjoying popular culture perhaps more than is good for me.

This has been lots of fun, Paul, but next time, please ask people to give their zip code as well as their score. I could do all sorts of interesting things with that pair of numbers, because I’ve ranked every zip code in the country from top to bottom on their socioeconomic status (you can download that dataset at my page on the AEI website). In fact, Paul, give me ten or twenty thousand respondents with that pair of numbers, and I could pretty much write a whole new book. We can negotiate the split of royalties.

Update | Those of you who follow this page closely will note that elsewhere we’ve reported Charles Murray own Bubble quiz score was a 48. However, he writes that score was based on an earlier version of the quiz. His score for the current version — which you can take here — is a less-cloistered 57.

This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions