1932

Abstract

The view that America is fragmenting is popular among both pundits and academics and may well be endemic to American culture. We review claims that between 1970 and 2005 American society fragmented along lines of cultural politics, social class, immigration, race, or lifestyle. Taking the twentieth century as historical context, we weigh evidence for both main variants of the fragmentation thesis—that there is an increasing divide between two Americas, or that America is fragmenting into a variety of “little worlds that touch but do not interpenetrate.” We find a well-documented, widening gap in social class, whether measured by education or income. We also find that political elites and activists are demonstrably more polarized in 2005 than they were in 1970; this gap's effect on the electorate is debatable, however. Caveats aside, there is little evidence for increasing fragmentation of America along lines of race, ethnicity, or immigration status. American cultural tastes increasingly cluster into distinct lifeways, but there is little evidence about what effects, if any, this development has. The loudest claims of fragmentation, those concerning value issues, are based on the most contested evidence, but the widening gap between Americans by income and education—which receives less popular attention—is substantial and serious.

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/content/journals/10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-115909
2009-08-11
2024-07-13
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  • Article Type: Review Article
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