I think I understand social stigma, but what is Murray saying about it? That young people are going to college because they cannot bear the thought of being labeled “second class citizens” for being mere high school graduates? They are just searching for some sort of social status? And if they don’t get it, society “punishes them viciously”? How? Or is it the case that the quality of their social and professional networks is much worse, or that their marriage market prospects are less attractive?
I grant that I am not an American and I did not live in the U.S. for long. Perhaps that is why I need this better explained to me. I am happy to change my mind, and I can see that this could be important.
I understood Murray’s economic argument a bit better, although, as I said before, I think college does pay off for most people currently at the margin of going (although there are some unlucky ones). Furthermore, we can all sympathize with the argument that perhaps four years is too long. In the United Kingdom, the undergraduates I teach get out in three years, and they go on to do the same jobs as U.S. undergraduates, be it in the financial sector, in business consulting, marketing, or government. In fact, all of Europe has gone to a three-year degree. But I don’t see Murray’s argument as being about three vs. four, or two vs. three; it is about something more fundamental and extreme.
It has been hard for researchers to pin down what types of rewards really motivate people to enroll in college. Financial rewards such as a higher salary? Promise of a pleasant four years? Access to a higher social class? People engage in all kinds of wasteful activities to get status. In fact, that’s the whole point of doing them — to distinguish yourself from those who don’t do them. Murray is saying that for many people, the BA is like that. It basically gives them little or no knowledge, especially if they major in a subject such as Russian Literature. But what is obvious to Murray is not obvious to me, and it doesn’t seem obvious to Carey either. I am happy to change my mind if I get more evidence.