I first became aware of sociologist Claude Fischer when he wrote a book on the social history of the telephone.
That was a sign of my own parochialism at the time, not his.
Fischer teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of numerous award-winning books on American society. He's also that ultimate rarity -- an academic statistician who writes clearly and elegantly.
Fischer is a skeptic on the issue of culture wars, he doesn't think ordinary Americans -- as contrasted with the political class -- are all that divided on major cultural issues. "On the so-called values issues," he writes, "with the possible exception of abortion, Americans cluster around the middle, not in two opposed camps."
That doesn't mean he doesn't see any major divisions. In fact, he sees three -- immigration, race, and class. That last point of cleavage may surprise those who think of the U.S. as an egalitarian, classless society. But the roots of the class divide are what's really interesting.
"Many people are aware of the widening gap among Americans by income," Fischer says. "But the split between the college-educated and others is perhaps the most profound division of all."
Obviously, the better educated get better jobs, earn more, and accumulate more wealth than the less educated. But Fischer cautions that the division runs even deeper:
"Increasingly, college graduates live in different urban areas and neighborhoods than the less educated do. Increasingly, college-educated (and post-graduate) Americans marry one another."
In fact, the better educated are more likely to get married and less likely to divorce. Along with financial resources, they give their children certain cultural advantages like exposure to the arts and foreign travel.
Fischer generally believes that the fragmentation of American society is somewhat overblown, particularly in terms of historical perspective. But he fears that this education gap is only getting wider.