May 07, 2006

They Have More Money

Particularly in light of this discussion, I found this article interesting. A lot of great novels through history have been written about the various gradations of class and money, and there might be one in there about the rich woman who won't have her grad-school classmates over to her three-bedroom apartment because it might seem ostentatious. (I'm more sympathetic to the assistant professor who tells her child "Don't think that you're one of the rich kids, because you're not," for some reason.)

The Yabroff article attributes part of the income disparity between friends to meritocracy-based higher education. I think this doesn't refer to people from poor backgrounds who get educations and wind up making more than their old friends from the neighborhood–the old friends from the neighborhood usually aren't dreamt of in Sunday Styles' philosophy–but college friends, some from rich backgrounds some not; which is especially relevant to the Unfogged discussion. And much of this goes back to the idea that the U.S. doesn't have nearly as much social mobility as we'd like to think.

Pop-culture note: The Friends with Money movie mentioned in the article looks like it'll be worth catching, since it's by Nicole Holofcener, whose movies I've never seen but who's known for propelling the career of Catherine [swoon] Keener.

via RivkaT chez iocaste212

Posted by Matt Weiner at May 7, 2006 12:48 PM

Friends with Money was in limited U.S. release as of April 7th. In fact, it's currently playing in a theatre near you (insofar as it's in the same city). For these reasons, I strongly question your use of the future tense "it'll."

Posted by: washerdreyer at May 7, 2006 07:58 PM

I haven't caught it.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at May 7, 2006 09:32 PM

I kinda suspect Barbara Ehrenreich covered some of this territory in "Fear of Falling" back in 1989. I haven't re-read it in a long time, but suspect that many of the trends it discussed are only stronger now.

The NYT's audience for articles like these is composed mostly of a certain (geographically biased) class of people, that has a high correlation with people who went to the artificial construct known as Good Colleges, and one of the underlying issues is that (I think) social stratification at those places has changed. The WASPocracy are still in attendance, but their decline and the divergence of monetary class from social/ethnic-background class mean that the old mechanisms that kept up subtle divisions between the rich and the just fortunate are less in operation.

I think of the title scene in "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" where Richard Feynman, a new grad student at Princeton, is invited to a fancy tea at the Dean's. Unaccustomed to the surroundings, on being asked whether he'd like his tea with milk or lemon, he's so flustered he answers "Both," to which the Dean's wife replies "Surely ...!" It's hard to imagine the scenario playing out the same way now. Of course people still make it to grad school who aren't from a rarefied background (thankfully), but the Dean even at Princeton is more of a career academic than an Anglo representative of the upper class and its manners.

When class is based more on money and less on the Social Register, it's still inherited but it can mean people have acquaintances across the boundary. However, increases in costs of housing, living, and tuition may make that a temporary phenomenon.

Posted by: Ben at May 8, 2006 03:39 PM

One of the things that may have changed is the assumption that the Dean's wife's career is to pour tea for graduate students. Not the Dean's husband's, either.

Posted by: Matt's mom at May 8, 2006 04:23 PM

I think the Unfogged discussion was misguided. You do not need money from Mommy and Daddy to become a doctor or a lawyer or anything else that is likely to launch you into higher reaches of the income distribution. More or less by definition, if you have a plausible plan that will likely result in your making a lot more money, then there is a bank or an investor or a government program that will loan you the necessary capital to make that happen.

The sort of kids who do rely on prolonged support from Mommy and Daddy are the ones who want to be dancers, musicians, actors, writers, filmmakers-- anything that is glamorous but not, on average, financially rewarding-- or else the ones who just don't know what they want to do. In other words, these kids are not using Mom and Dad's capital to entrench or improve their income superiority over those less fortunate. Rather, they are having a good time consuming Mom and Dad's capital. On average (barring the lucky few who actually do become international rock stars) they are probably downwardly mobile.

Posted by: Richard Mason at May 13, 2006 01:04 AM

I guess I mean the original post on Unfogged was misguided, not the whole discussion so much.

Posted by: Richard Mason at May 13, 2006 01:28 AM