I have on several occasions made reference to the fact that only 35% or so of Americans twenty -five and older have four year college degrees. The discussion in the public space about the resentment of Republican base voters at what they [correctly] perceive as elitist condescension towards them focuses on the difference between elite colleges and universities -- the Ivy League, et al. -- and the rest of the two thousand four year colleges and universities in America, ignoring the fact that for two-thirds of adult Americans, Ball State or the satellite branches of the State University of Missouri are equally "elite."
But it occurred to me that the gap between the public discourse and reality is probably a good deal larger than that, so I did a little Googling to check, coming up with a useful link to the always reliable U. S. Census Bureau.
The percentage of the population twenty-five or older with college degrees has been rising steadily since I went to Harvard in 1950, at which time it was roughly five percent. Now it is, I think, reasonable to assume that relatively few people get college degrees after the age of twenty -five. There are some, of course, but when we are talking about percentages of a population of three hundred million and more, they do not much alter the overall statistics. It follows that from the percentage of those twenty-five or older twenty years ago, we can infer the percentage forty-five or older today, and so forth. [I trust this is obvious.] What do we find when we consult the table?
Only 23.3% of Americans forty-five or older have college degrees -- not one in four. More than three-fourths do not, and therefore are and always have been excluded from the very wide range of good jobs that require a college degree: doctor, lawyer, professor, corporate executive, FBI agent, high school teacher, elementary school teacher, Walmart store manager, and so forth. By the way, the figure for White Americans forty-five or older is 24.2%, less than a percentage point more.
I think these few statistics, all by themselves, tell us a good deal about the reasons for the deep anger and resentment of so large a portion of the Republican base.