Are there really three types of Americans? This week, I’ve described three types of Americans, based on their characteristic values and demographic profiles: traditional individualists, religious conservatives, and young progressives.
How accurate are these generalizations? After all, there are lots of ways to sift and sort Americans. “DaveFossil,” a regular OurValues.org reader, noted on Monday that there are just shy of a dozen types of Americans, citing Colin Woodard’s new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Marketing analysts often drill even deeper, documenting the distinctiveness of thousands of local areas, communities, and neighborhoods.
So, can we really sum up Americans in just three categories?
The answer is: It depends on how you look at it. As Gary Althen and Janet Bennett discuss in American Ways: A Cultural Guide to the United States, you can say that every person is unique and generalizations of any kind are impossible. But you can also say that everyone is the same—biologically, for example, we are very similar. And, in some ways, members of a group do have things in common with one another.
“Americans might all seem different from each other,” say Althen and Bennett, “until you compare them as a group with the Japanese, for example. Then it becomes clear that certain attitudes and behaviors are much more characteristic of the Americans and others are far more typical of the Japanese.” In other words, there is a unique American culture even if everyone doesn’t fit it.
The same is true for groups inside American culture. Each group has a unique culture. I emphasized the constellations of values that define three such groups. Everyone doesn’t fit neatly into them, but they represent three strong patterns in American society.
Do you see the three types around you?
Do you feel an affinity for one of the three?
If there’s a missing fourth type, what would it be?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue.