Old-school readers of Hit Coffee and associated blogs will remember Sheila Tone’s “Prole Test.” Originally posted on Vikram’s old blog, it went down when his old site did. However, as Charles Murray causes a wave with his Bubble Thickness Test, I thought that it was high-time to reproduce it.


A few weeks back, Vikram wrote a sweet little post about how people should be more sympathetic to my woes. (sniff) But he gives me too much credit, saying I was poor. I wasn’t. Not by any government definition anyway.

But I wasn’t middle-class, either. So what am I talking about? I hope the little quiz below helps clarify things.

The best term I’ve been able to come up with is working-class, which leaves some loopholes. How about semi-prolehood? Whatever it is, it describes an important difference. It means you’re not poor, but there’s still a big difference in what you get to do for a living, where you get to go to school, and how you live.

Remember, this isn’t about being in the underclass. That’s why many serious hardships aren’t scored. It’s about how you might eventually graduate from college, but you’ll never get to work for the New York Times. You could maybe be a lawyer, but you’ll never work for one of those big firms. Definitely a schoolteacher, but probably not a professor. And for God’s sake, don’t try to get into screenwriting or directing. Yes, I know about Quentin Tarantino, but name three others who are under 60. Finance or politics will also be rough (but good luck, Dizzy).

The following are a few telltale characteristics of the non-middle-class:

1. Military service.

This obviously only applies at times your family was in the United States, so apologies to recent immigrants. Did anyone in your family serve? As an enlisted person? No points for officers. One prole point for each grandparent, uncle or cousin. Two for each parent. Three for each sibling or yourself.

2. Professions.

Is anyone in your family a medical doctor? Minus three points for the first, one point for each additional. Minus two for the first lawyer or university professor (must be an accredited university), one for each additional. Either parent work for the government in a non-management, non-elected position? One prole point — unless it’s your mom and she was a teacher. Then no points, because women from higher classes often become teachers.

3. Education.

How many people from your graduating high school class went to an Ivy League university? Any? Minus one point for each, up to a maximum 3 points. Edit: Add one point if you had to travel more than 30 minutes to get to that high school.*

How many people in your immediate family (counting grandparents, parents, siblings and spouses) have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited, non-online institution? Minus one point for each — but only if they got the degree prior to age 24. Minus two points for each USNWR first-tier. Don’t count anyone you already counted as a professional in Number 2.

Two prole points if no for both parents and all grandparents. Three prole points if your answer is zero for all immediate family besides yourself, and you have at least one sibling.

Minus one if you graduated from any accredited college before the age of 24. Minus one more if it was a USNWR first-tier.

Notice there are no points assigned based upon who paid for your education. This is not an oversight. Many non-middle-class parents and grandparents — cops, aerospace workers — proudly pay for their descendants’ attendance at USC, Loyola Marymount, University of LaVerne, and Cal State whatever.

4. Health Insurance.

Growing up, was your health insurance HMO or private? One prole point for HMO or none.

I remember in a political science class, we were going on a class trip and needed to provide our medical insurance carrier. A list was passed around. I was last to sign. I saw that every other student had either Blue Cross or Blue Shield. And that was even at my crappy state school. (The polisci kids tended to be future lawyers, and seemed younger and wealthier than the general student population.)

5. Travel.

Prior to age 24, how many times did you travel outside the continental United States by airplane or boat? Minus one point for each time — but no points if it was to visit relatives. One prole point if your answer is never.

6. Discipline.

Did your parents physically discipline you after the age of 7? One prole point. Three points for after the age of 12. Minus one if your answer is never — unless you’re Jewish, then no deduction. My understanding is that Jewish people in the United States never physically discipline regardless of their economic status.

7. Inheritance.

Prior to age 30, did you inherit money? If so, minus one.

Yes, choosing 30 is a bit arbitrary. It’s an age when you’re still in the youth demographic and at least one parent is usually still alive. How much you got doesn’t matter. You’re either from the type of family that does that, or you’re not. A semi-prole could easily have a parent die prior to 30, but the parent either would have died with no money or left all assets to the other parent, probably passing by intestacy. If both your parents died I’ll let you decide if the point is fair.

More likely scenario is that your grandparents left you money. That kind of estate planning is for the upper classes.

8. Traditional family.

Were your parents divorced or estranged prior to your entry into high school? If so, one prole point. Same if they weren’t married at the time of your birth. This does not apply if at the time of your birth, your parents lived in either California or New York and were working in entertainment or the arts. Those people live by different rules.

One point if a parent died prior to your entry into high school and the surviving parent failed to remarry within five years (speaks to economic problems and lack of social ties).

Do you know the full names and maiden names of your grandparents? If not, plus one. Great-grandparents? Minus one. Got any pictures of the greats? Minus one. Edit: Unless they’re still alive, then plus one. OK, no points either way if they’re over 100.


If you ended up with any points, you’re on Sheila’s side of the wall. Sorry. Have a Happy Meal, it always makes me feel better.

* Like in Half Sigma’s high school, probably half the class went to Ivies, but he had to take a boat every morning to get there. That should count for something.

Clarification: If you are married, include your spouse and his family in your the answers to 1, 2, 3, and 7. Those are about current status. Don’t count your spouse in 4, 5, 6, and 8. Those refer to your individual background.

Addendum: Earn up to six additional points for Native American heritage!

Category: Coffeehouse

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8 Responses to Sheila Tone’s Prole Test

  1. Kirk says:

    I know it goes almost without mentioning but regarding number five, “Travel,” you need to make an exception for military service. Also, skiing is a definite tell. I’m not sure about cruises.

    Anyway, I’m still in love with this cruise video. The Rod Stewart adds something.


  2. Samson J. says:

    I get a -7 on Sheila’s test, while getting a “13-16, you don’t even live in a bubble” on the Murray test. Which shows, among other things, how artificial and foolish many of these markers are.

    The damn thing about it – which Murray’s recent article implies, but doesn’t directly assert – is that the divergence of class values itself makes it difficult to jump from lower-class to higher-class, because it means that changing class requires not merely hard work, but also entails adopting a slew of alien cultural values (unless you’re extremely strong-willed or otherwise willing to be considered a “weirdo”).

    I think oftentimes people who were raised prole and manage to become upper-middle-class experience a life-long kind of “dissonance”. At least, I do, and I don’t expect it to ever really disappear. I loathe SWPL culture, but I don’t really fit in with a lot of my relatives anymore, either.

  3. Peter says:

    It’s a cool test, much less snarky and douchebaggy than Charles Murray’s latest excretion, but I disagree to an extent about the military service question. Many test-takers will have fathers who were drafted to serve in Vietnam. Or grandfathers drafted for World War II or Korea. While some middle- and upper-class young men were able to avoid service in Vietnam, that was far from universal, and it would have been nearly impossible for Grandad to have avoided the WWII draft. Accordingly, I would modify the first question to limit it to enlistees.

  4. Peter says:

    I can’t get access to that link about Native American ancestry. Can you post the content, it sounds interesting? Thanks.

  5. SFG says:

    -8 and 13, similar to Samson J. can’t say I’m surprised.

  6. SFG says:

    “Minus one if your answer is never — unless you’re Jewish, then no deduction. My understanding is that Jewish people in the United States never physically discipline regardless of their economic status.”

    I’d drop this caveat. There aren’t an awful lot of Jewish proles out there, and the ones there are tend to have middle-class *values*—which may be why there aren’t an awful lot of Jewish proles out there.

  7. Sheila Tone says:

    Oh hey, thanks for putting that up! And thanks for tipping me off to Murray’s book — I’m about halfway through (which for seven days is lightning speed since I had the second kid), and I got a 42 on his “Prole Test.”

  8. trumwill says:

    Sheila, no pressure or anything, but I’d love for a post on the book when you’re done. It’s racked up hundreds of comments on LoOG, and nobody there has actually read it!

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