Just How Elitist Are You? Murray’s “How Thick is Your Bubble” Quiz

February 29th, 2012 at 8:35 am

In a critical review of Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart yesterday, I argued that he fails to explain either the scope or the reasons for the growing gaps between income classes that are the subject of his book.

This being Murray, cultural gaps loom large as well.  His hypothesis is that elites and others are growing ever farther apart along cultural dimensions and the book even has a test so you can see just how out of touch you are.  Here it is with my answers.  Go here to see how he scores the results.

1. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?

I think so, but not for a while—my current neighborhood is just as wonky as Murray would predict.  I’m sitting in my home office looking out at the homes of two lawyers and one esteemed budget analyst.  My bubble starts out a bit thick here, I’m afraid.

2. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession (defined as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?

Most of my life, the breadwinner was a teacher, so quick, hit me with some non-elitist points (that breadwinner was a single mom, with which Murray has issues, but I’m still claiming credit here)!

3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and was not where your college was  located?

Nope—I get dinged on this one—I crave urban access.  Truth be told, I moved from NYC to DC in ’92 and I still miss the big city…the music, the food (bagels, pizza—at least I’m not talking elite cuisine here), the diversity.

4. Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at a family income that was close to or below the poverty line? You may answer “yes” if your family income then was below $30,000 in 2010 dollars. Graduate school doesn’t count.  Living unemployed with your family after college doesn’t count.

Yes!  I was a struggling musician for years.  This may be more artsy than Murray has in mind, but struggling is struggling, no?

5. Have you ever walked on a factory floor?

Yes, but mostly with the Vice-President during tours related to the Recovery Act, so this doesn’t help me.

6. Have you ever held a job that caused something to hurt at the end of the day?

Assuming pride, ego, and paper cuts don’t count, no.

7. Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?

A relative, who I’m crazy about, so I’ll take partial credit on this one.

8. Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements?

I do!  We generally avoid talking about politics, but when we do, we actually work hard to find things we agree on, and lately we’ve been having good conversations about the Republican field.

My bubble is getting thinner!

9. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard?

I think so, but at least in one case, I’m sure s/he would be diagnosed with something if they were in primary school today.  In fact, s/he might be some sort of genius.

10. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes?

No…go ahead, ding me.  Like the beer question below, happy to lose points on this one.

11. What military ranks do these five insignia represent?

[See link for insignias.]  Well, no…but I showed them to my wife who grew up in a military household and she didn’t recognize most of them either so I’m not gonna take a penalty here.  In fact, I’m gonna take some points for marrying so wisely.

12. Choose one. Who is Jimmie Johnson? Or: Have you ever purchased Avon products?

My bad—don’t know Jimmie J and haven’t purchased anything from Avon…recently bought way too many Girl Scout cookies, which I don’t think is elitist but who knows?  [Wife didn’t know JJ either..neither did kids…it’s partly a regional thing, I think.  I know who he is now, though, so I learned something from Coming Apart.]

13. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck?

No, but my sister has one so I’m gonna claim non-elitist points on her behalf!

14. During the last year, have you ever purchased domestic mass-market beer to stock your own fridge?

No, and go ahead and whack me for this one because I love a good, dark Belgian beer and can’t stand the stuff he’s asking about here.  I’ll gladly take bubble points on this one.  But I also wonder is this isn’t really an elite’s view of non-elites.  I’d like to learn more about who’s drinking what before I lose credit here.

15. During the last five years, have you or your spouse gone fishing?

Choosing your lobster in a fancy restaurant doesn’t count, right?  (Kidding!—I know that lobster’s delicious but don’t like eating the little guys.)

16. How many times in the last year have you eaten at one of the following restaurant chains? Applebee’s, Waffle House, Denny’s, IHOP, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse

A lot!  I rack up some real anti-bubble points on this one.  My wife is trying to penalize me because a TGI Friday’s we recently visited was at an airport which she claims doesn’t count…I do not accept such arbitrary scorekeeping, and besides, I recall enjoying the meal quite a bit.

17. In secondary school, did you letter in anything?

No, but that’s at least partly because I was…um…uncoordinated compared to many of my colleagues.  Frankly, I think it’s elitist of Murray to ding me here because I can’t hit foul shots or a curve ball.

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or a meeting at a union local?

Yes!  I’ve been a member of two different unions in my day, local 802 (musicians’ union in NYC) and I was a founding member of the union at the Economic Policy Institute (I know…Murray would definitely withhold points for this one, and it’s true: we weren’t a particularly burly membership…but we were feisty (and we knew management feared us—can you imagine a strike at EPI?!))

19. Have you ever participated in a parade not involving global warming, a war protest, or gay rights?

Again, yes!  That bubble of mine is getting awfully thin.  I recently marched in a George Washington Parade and also the great, annual Halloween parade down Alexandria’s Mt. Vernon Ave.

20. Since leaving school, have you ever worn a uniform?

I’m sure a tux to Obama inaugural events doesn’t count, so ding me here.

21. Have you ever ridden on a long-distance bus (e.g., Greyhound,Trailways) or hitchhiked for a trip of fifty miles or more?

Whew…back on track…I have!  I’ve taken the cheap bus to NYC a few times, and it wasn’t bad at all.  And for the relative price—compared to other modes of transport up there—it’s hugely net-present-value positive.

22. Which of the following movies have you seen (at a theater or on a DVD)? Iron Man 2, Inception, Despicable Me, Tron Legacy, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Grown Ups, Little Fockers, The King’s Speech, Shutter Island.

Saw Despicable Me with the kids…it was OK, but much better were Tangled (which I loved) and the one with a similar plot to Despicable Me but where the villain was blue—and he turned out to be a good guy in the end—Will Ferrell was his voice…you know which one I’m talking about?

23. During the 2009–10 television season, how many of the following series did you watch regularly? American Idol, Undercover Boss, The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, House, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men, The Office, Survivor

None of the above…again, happy to lose points for not watching too much TV.

24. Have you ever watched an Oprah, Dr. Phil, or Judge Judy show all the way through?

No…(oh no, bubble thickening…!)

25. What does the word Branson mean to you?

Nothing…darn…a weak finish.

But without scoring myself, I’d say my bubble’s not that thick.  Former union guy, sister’s got a truck, wife’s a former Air Force brat, rides the bus…OK, I like quality beer and don’t watch Nascar…nobody’s perfect.

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32 comments in reply to "Just How Elitist Are You? Murray’s “How Thick is Your Bubble” Quiz"

  1. Paul Adams says:

    ‘Um…no…but that’s at least partly because I was a bit of a spaz compared to many of my colleagues.’

    Maybe its an English thing – I’m definitely being politically correct here – but the use of the very derogatory term ‘spaz’ is a bit unfortunate.

    Only relatively recently found your blog and very much enjoy reading what you write so thanks for putting it out there.


    • Jared Bernstein says:

      I’ll fix–but that is what they called me!

      • Paul Adams says:

        Jared, I wasn’t expecting you to change it tbh I was just surprised at seeing the phrase.

        As stated here:


        the word still carries powerful derogatory connotations in England which have long since faded in the US. You’re in good company – apparently Tiger Woods also upset us English by using the phrase in 2006 🙂

        Enjoyed this piece btw – and being a vegetarian I particularly appreciated the lobster comment.

  2. The Raven says:

    It’s interesting how many of these things being Jewish makes less likely.

    Could it be…?

  3. fausto412 says:

    time to hit the Google to learn why that word is derogatory. I’m ESL!

  4. fausto412 says:

    wow…so many definitions in Urban Dictionary. Don’t see how its derogatory when he is describing himself.

  5. Kathleen Wright says:

    Wish to amend the scoring technique…On the last question, I believe points should be allowed for identifying Branson as the chauffeur on Downton Abbey who managed to marry the youngest daughter of the Lord of the Manor (with his grudging approval)after bonding with her over politically progressive issues and activism.

  6. AndrewBW says:

    This is a lot of crap, and anyone calling himself a serious social scientist ought to be embarrassed at promoting it. It has all the accuracy and relevance of a Cosmo sex poll.

  7. David Fisher says:

    Oddly, it isn’t just being Jewish that makes a number of these unlikely.
    I am pretty sure that we have a test here that scores poor urban and black (or Hispanic or really any other minority) as a lot closer to being elite than middle class, rural and white.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but my impression is that NASCAR does not have a huge following among people of color.

    • Chris G says:

      Yeah, funny about that isn’t it? I must have missed his disclaimer that his scoring only applies if you’re white and Christian…

  8. PeonInChief says:

    This is really a test showing what middle class people think the working class does, drinks, eats, thinks. My husband did work in a warehouse once upon a time, but he also is my personal chef, producing fancy meals with sauces and stuff. The working class is far more diverse than the middle class (we’re trained to do, not to be), so our interests and activities are likely to be much more diverse than those of the middle class.

  9. Tom says:

    I score 26, but I didn’t deduct for calling the bud and miller I drink “lawnmower beer.”

    There is a lot of crap in this, though. Rotary contributes ‘social capital’ but unions don’t? Really?. Inception is not an elitist film? Serving in the military is not elitist? What about someone who got an appointment to West Point?

  10. JkR says:

    What rubbish. I’m as elitist as they come, and aspire for more, but I would ace his ‘test’.

    Thanks for sharing…

  11. marym says:

    The questionnaire also has questions with sex and age; I participated heavily in team sports in high school, but girls couldn’t earn a letter in anything at that time. While my score, however, was an accurate reflection of the “grew up blue collar/first generation middle class” group that I belong to, the questionnaire strikes me as generally unscientific.

    • tejanarusa says:

      Ding! Murray has a totally undeserved rep (among certain folks) for being rational and scientific. He isn’t.

      And although I’m sure he’d rate me as an elitist liberal, I pretty well aced that test. Husband drove pickups, I know about Branson, MO (you can’t live in TX or OK and not know), lived in towns under 50K, rode busses plenty in my younger years, etc., etc.

  12. Chris G says:

    So nobody’s posting their scores?! Just how elitist are OTE readers? The world wants to know!

    Me: 31. But I scored a large fraction of my points before I turned 18. (That would be before the mid-80’s.)

  13. Sam Adenbaum says:

    This whole discussion is a horrible red herring being posited by Charles Murray. It is simply the resurgence of anti-elitist, anti-expert populism that has from time to time reared its ugly head in this Republic.

    Some of our greatest leaders were not common people, but that didn’t stop them from promoting the common good of all of us. No one ever accused Franklin and Eleanor of being anything but patricians, but that didn’t stop them from implementing policies to help working people.

    I’m reminded of Roman Hruska’s quote supporting G Harold Carswell for the Supreme Court, “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

  14. Bob D says:

    What I find funny is what this says about the author of the questionaire and his biases. You get points for knowing an evangelical christian? Knowing people in the military? Watching Oprah and not bowling?


  15. Michaels says:

    You give Murray way too much credit here. This is just bullying nonsense. How about these questions:

    1. In the last ten years, how often, and how vocally, did you advocate sending young working-class people, white and otherwise, to die in a pointless foreign war?

    2. In the last ten years, have you publicly advocated policies that would materially improve the lives of working class people, white and otherwise? Have you publicly advocated policies that would make their lives materially worse?

  16. Stradivarius says:

    I agree with many of the comments–the questions revealed the author’s bias on everything from class to media to IQ. I scored 44, but admit that I benefited from growing up in Alaska, so scored points for fishing and owning a truck. . .

    Thanks for sharing your answers Jared–it was a novel way for your regular readers to learn more about you!

  17. Michael says:

    Now that I’ve graduated from high school, I no longer have to pretend to like things I don’t in order to avoid beatings.

    Murray can take a long walk off a short pier.

  18. RB says:

    What questions! Hilarious! I enjoyed reading your responses. Murray fails the quiz first and best by authoring these questions.

  19. James Edwards says:

    So I got a 64. It seems that the whole thing really should be 1 question. Are you white and from Alabama?

    I spent many years working as a cab driver, pizza delivery, waiter, cook, apparently those are elitist jobs because they aren’t on the factory floor and I didn’t hurt after work. Does getting stabbed and robbed count? If your dad was the manager of the local McDonalds you are elitist? I currently live in a poor neighborhood in Hyderabad India, but that’s elitist because it’s not American? I guess those do good hippie peace core volunteers are a bunch of snobs. But what about Evangelical missionaries?

    I lived for a while in Puerto Rican neighborhood and they would have been far more elitist than me.

    All in all I would rate that quiz as a fail.

  20. Jill SH says:

    How elitist is it to be the one who decides what/who is elitist?

    Or especially to appoint yourself as such?

  21. cat says:

    IMHO #11 is a trick question as it has rank insignias from all the branches of the military and three of them are officers ranks and one was an NCO. You should get deductions for recognizing them all.

  22. Sly Allegretto says:

    JB if your bubble isn’t that thick what does that say about mine? 🙂

    I think my bubble burst by #6.

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      No kidding…just on beer preferences alone, you’re aggressively non-elite. And then there’s all that other stuff I won’t go into…

  23. cliot says:

    I refuse to answer the questions since the Real Housewives was not included in any of the categories.

    My neighbors are evangelical Christians who love Obama and hate the Republicans, how does he explain that? Oh, it’s California I guess. Go figure.

    The truth is that living in exurban California, we don’t ask these questions of each other, it’s rude.

  24. Bumpa says:

    @ question 14, about the beer, Only the elite stock their frig with CDS (Corporate Domestic Swill or Yellow Fizzy) as connoisseurs they have nice over priced wine cellars and wouldn’t appreciate a GOOD IPA or ESB if it crossed their taste buds. Normally they’d ask for a Bud-lite in a Brew Pub. But it takes a true “commonsewer” to know a good beer!