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Culture of the United StatesAmerican culture is a Western culture, largely based on British culture with influences from other parts of Europe, the Native American peoples, African Americans and to a lesser extent Asian Americans and other young groups of immigrants. Due to the extent of American culture there are many integrated but unique subcultures within the U.S.
The formative years of the United States were the late 18th century when the country was founded, and a great deal of U.S. culture is couched in the ideals of The Enlightenment.
The Declaration's mission statement about securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; French revolution's ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity; and the national motto of E pluribus unum ("From many, one") reflect the country's values and social development. Another primary influence on American culture is the constant stream of new immigrants, many of whom had fled persecution or oppression in their home countries, and were seeking freedom (including religious freedom) and economic opportunity, leading them to reject totalitarian practices.
By and large, Americans value the ideals of individual liberty, individualism, self-sufficiency, altruism, equality, Judeo-Christian morals, free markets, a republican form of government, democracy, populism, pluralism, feminism, and patriotism. (Americans often believe that their patriotism has nuances that differentiate it from nationalism and nationalism's negative connotations.)
The fact that the United States is the largest English-speaking marketplace allows firms to compete across the country and to enjoy economies of scale (cost reductions that arise from the huge scale of manufacturing) that reduce prices and benefit consumers. The relatively uniform commercial culture--with many large stores or "chains" operating nationwide--produces a commercial atmosphere that is relatively homogeneous throughout the country.
The population of the United States tends to be centered in large cities, in marked contrast to the demographics of a century ago, when the country was quite agrarian.
The United States is generally skeptical or hostile toward socialist and communist ideologies, but some of the related movements, such as the labor movement, became a defining part of America's heritage after the New Deal. The country was less affected by socialist ideas in the 20th century than was Europe, and the McCarthy Era and the Cold War as a whole demonstrated a deeply felt hostility to communism, which, especially at that time, was perceived as anti-individualist, undemocratic, and essentially anti-American. They are also evidenced in aspects of social policy (for example, the absence of a national health care system and the constant controversy about the size and role of the government, especially the federal government, in individuals' lives and in states' laws).
The American tradition of free-market capitalism has led the populace (and their leaders) to generally accept the vicissitudes of the free market and the continuous alterations to society that a changing economy implies, although social and economic displacement are common. The result is a flexible, profit-oriented socioeconomic system.
This is emphasized in the Americanization of such television shows as The Office, Queer as Folk, Red Dwarf and even Dad's Army. In this process, the show is often rewritten and localized with American actors cast in the place of their British counterparts. By contrast, in many other countries, films and television programs produced abroad are broadcast unchanged (except for dubbing/subtitling).
Americans also tend to travel to other countries less than citizens of European countries, for example, partly because international travel from the United States typically entails much further distances than for Europeans resulting in much higher costs. The average American worker has fewer vacation days than the average European (10-15 rather than the European average of around 20). America's vast size also enables its citizens to go great distances, and see a variety of places, without leaving the country. For example, one can travel from a near-tropical region (e.g. Southern Texas) to a frigid region (Minnesota). Lifestyles, food, and culture also tends to differ within the different regions.
When discussing the American Civil War, Americans use the phrase "the Union" to refer to the states that remained under the control of the federal government in Washington and did not secede to join the Confederacy. The phrase is also occasionally used in contemporary discussions of American federalism and states' rights.
Fairly formal terms, still short-hand, evoking patriotic observances (possibly with irony) are "U.S.A." (with or without the periods, and usually with "the"); a more marked version is "the U. S. of A." The official name of the nation, the "United States of America," is very formal and is most often used in formal government documents, pledges, or ceremonies, but not in colloquial conversations.
Because of the size and large population of the country, America is often described as a nation of joiners who tend to self-associate with non-familial groups. Individuals tend to perceive themselves as "free agents" rather than bound by family or clan ties.
Group allegiances are sometimes regional, but can also be related to a professional or fraternal organization. For example, residents of North Carolina are proud to be "Tar Heels," Indiana residents are "Hoosiers" and many cities have a strong sense of civic identity, often reinforced by an innocuous but deeply felt rivalry with another local city. An example of such a rivalry exists between the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. A strong rivalry that continues to this day involves the cities of Boston and New York, which is centered around the historic baseball rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
Recent immigrants tend to congregate with other immigrants from their country of origin, often establishing neighborhoods (sometimes called ethnic enclaves) in cities with popular names like "Chinatown", "Poletown", or "Little Saigon." Second- and third-generation descendants of immigrants tend to have looser affiliations with their ethnic groups.
America has tens of thousands of clubs and organizations, and if a group has a charitable or service orientation, Americans may volunteer their time through those groups. Examples of these groups include the Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts of America, Little League, etc.
The types of food served at home vary the most and depend upon the region of the country and the family's own cultural heritage. Americanized versions of these cultural foods, such as American Chinese cuisine, sometimes appear. Recent immigrants tend to eat food similar to that of their country of origin. Families that have lived for a few generations in the U.S. tend to eat some combination of that and the food common to the region they live in or grew up in, such as New England cuisine, Midwestern cuisine, Southern cuisine, Tex-Mex cuisine, and Californian cuisine.
American sports are quite distinct from those played elsewhere in the world. The "big three" are baseball, football and basketball, which are all popular on both the college and professional levels.
Baseball has a huge following and is referred to as the "national pastime"; Major League Baseball teams play almost every day from April to October.
American football (known simply as "football" in the U.S.) attracts more viewers within the country than baseball nowadays; however, National Football League teams play only 16 regular-season games each year, so baseball is the runaway leader in ticket sales.
Basketball, invented in Massachusetts by the Canadian-born James Naismith, is another popular sport, represented professionally by the National Basketball Association.
NASCAR has also grown from a mainly Southern sport to the second-most-watched sport in America behind football. Less popular, but still considered a major spectator sport, is hockey. Hockey, always a mainstay of Great Lakes area culture, gained tenuous footholds in regions like the Carolinas and Tampa Bay, Florida in recent years, as the National Hockey League pursued a policy of expansion.
Unlike in Europe, Africa, and Latin America, soccer has a relatively small following, and is mostly popular in the more international cities with large immigrant populations, like New York and Los Angeles. Generally few non-Hispanic American adults appear to be attracted to soccer as spectators, but the sport is widely played by children of all backgrounds.
The extent in America to which sports are associated with secondary and tertiary education is unique among nations. Particularly notable in basketball and football, high school and particularly college sports are followed with a fervor equalling or exceeding that felt for professional sports; college football games can draw six-digit crowds and, for upper-tier schools, sports are a significant source of revenue. Though student athletes may be held to significantly lower academic requirements than non-athletes at universities, a minimum standard does exist.
Dress was moderately formal until the 1960s, when a revolution took place that stressed casual and informal, and in the Western tradition of pants and a shirt. Exceptions are major cities such as New York and Los Angeles, where many residents embrace a more expensive and "stylish" approach to fashion. Social and business situations may call for tailored suits or other more elegant outfits. Tuxedos and evening dress occasions have become much less common since 1960. The top hat vanished in 1960--along with most millinery. Skirts and dresses are usually exclusively reserved for females. Men wear kilts only as part of celebrations such as parades, or as part of a family reunion tradition. Jeans, a T-shirt and athletic shoes come close to being a "national uniform".
Types of clothing worn often have something to do with which region of the country people live in. Some Texans and residents of the Southwest dress in boots and hats in a style typically associated with traditional cowboys. In the region from New England to New Jersey, preppy style clothing is popular. In the South, people sometimes dress more casually, although formality in certain contexts is valued some parts of the region, a trend which may also influence ethnic groups outside the South, including African Americans.
The greatest variations in dress are related to climate. Easterners generally tend to dress more formally than Westerners, though this is also closely connected with cultural history as well. Residents of northern states wear heavy sweaters, warm, water-resistant boots, stocking caps and heavy coats or down parkas in the cold season. In Hawaii, the Hawaiian shirt as an acceptable item of wear by men has received formal approval by the state legislature. In beach areas and places with relatively warm and consistent climates, especially California, Hawaii, and Florida, "skimpy" clothing is considered acceptable in all but the most formal settings. Cowboy hats, Western boots and large silver belt buckles are found in southwestern and western regions of the United States, particularly Texas and Arizona. However, many from the Southern United States dress in the aforementioned jeans and t-shirt.
The trend toward informality has increased among many segments of society. For instance, students at colleges and universities are often noted for wearing flip flops or thong sandals as well as pajamas to class.
Age five: Kindergarten
Ages six-11: Elementary school. Children start in grade 1 and advance to grade 5 or 6.
Ages 12-14 or 11-14: Junior high school or middle school (usually grades 7-8 or grades 6-8, respectively).
Ages 14-18: High school (usually grades 9-12 or 10-12, depending on whether the community uses middle schools or junior high schools).
The entire span of primary and secondary education, from Kindergarten to grade 12, is often abbrieved in the US as K-12 or K12, which in spoken American English is rendered as "K through 12" or "K 12."
Additionally, many children attend schools before they reach the age of five. These pre-schools are often private and not part of the public educational system although some public school systems include pre-schools.
Why American education is superior
Increasingly, however, more comprehensive statewide curricula are being developed. Also, as of 2005, there is increasing state and federal pressure to quantify teaching efficacy using results from standardized tests (cf. No Child Left Behind), which tends to lead to a more uniform curriculum. This trend toward educational standardization, which has been attributed with a concommittant decline in flexibility in teaching, and other reforms—such as the use of whole language methodology for teaching reading in primary school, instead of the more traditional phonics-based approach—promoted in recent years have been controversial. Other criticisms of recent educational trends include an increasing lack of post-secondary scholarships and subsidies.
Funding of the public school systems is most often provided primarily at the local level,with money obtained from county or city property taxes used to fund the public schools (in conjunction with additional funds from the state and federal governments).
Most of the private institutions have traditionally been religious institutions funded by, for example, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish communities. Some private secular schools, military schools, and multi-lingual schools also exist. Private secular and multi-lingual elementary and secondary education may cost $10,000 to $20,000 per year per student in large metropolitan areas, placing these schools out of reach of all but the wealthiest of middle- and upper-class families. However, many of these schools provide academic scholarships and need-based assistance. Religious schools vary in price, from nearly free to costs on par with private secular schools. Poorer families may send their children to these lower-priced schools for a religious education, or because they consider the schools better than the available public schools. Home schooling is allowed in many states and is an alternative for a small minority of households. The motivation for home schooling is often religious or political. Many times, home schooling is used because of particular sports.
The United States is a great center of higher education, boasting more than 1,500 universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning.
Common postgraduate degrees are master's degrees or Ph.D.s, or specialized professional degrees such as a J.D. for a lawyer, an MBA for a businessperson, a Pharm.D. for a pharmacist or an M.D. for a physician.
As with the lower level public education system, there is no national public university system in the United States; each state has its own public university system. There are also many privately run colleges, universities, and trade schools, some of them religiously affiliated. State university tuition ranges from nearly free on up, but is generally significantly lower than at private schools, and is often lower for state residents than for out-of-state students.
The most prestigious private universities of the United States are the eight Ivy League schools. There are also a set of public schools known as the Public Ivies. All around the country, there are also many other colleges and universities, both public and private and of a variety of sizes, whose names carry prestige.
The U.S. federal government does provide some federal grants and loans for higher education to many families. Most universities offer academic scholarships and need-based aid; however, many students assume some of the cost of their own education through work and loans.
Students seeking officership in the United States Military may enroll in ROTC courses at most colleges and universities, or in one of service academies, such as West Point or Annapolis.
American English. Other languages that are considered to be important to U.S. culture include:
Spanish because of the proximity of and immigration from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Central and South America, as well as the cultural crossover of the borderlands,
the native Hawaiian language,
Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog due to immigration from the countries where those languages are spoken, and
to a certain extent French, primarily in far north New England, due to the Acadian-Canadian influence, and in Louisiana (Cajun).
There are more than 300 languages besides English which can claim native speakers in the United States--some of which are spoken by the indigenous peoples (about 150 living languages) and others which were imported by immigrants. Creoles native to the United States include Gullah and Cajun, both spoken in the Southeast. American Sign Language, used mainly by the deaf, is also native to the country.
There are four major regional dialects in the United States--northeastern, south, inland north and midlands. The midlands accent (considered the "standard accent" in the United States, and analogous in some respects to the received pronunciation elsewhere in the English-speaking world) extends from what were once the "Middle Colonies" across the Midwest to the Pacific states.
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, seat of the Los Angeles Diocese of the Catholic Church
Historically, United States religious tradition has been primarily Protestant Christianity, but this tradition coexists in a public sphere where religious plurality and secularism are the norm. For example, the United States Constitution enshrined individual freedom of religious practice, which courts have since interpreted to mean that the government is a secular institution, an idea called "separation of church and state".
While the many Christian sects have the most adherents, many other faiths are also popular. No one religion holds sway over the entirety of the population. "Culture wars" often have roots in religious differences, but religious violence is virtually nonexistent and roundly condemned by religious as well as non-religious individuals. U.S. people as a whole attend religious services more often than do their peers in most Northern European countries. In fact, the U.S. is rare among industrialized nations in that most of its citizens consider themselves religious. It is not, however, as religious as many of its neighbors in the New World.
According to the 2001 American Religious Identity Survey (ARIS), 76.5% of United States residents, or 159 million people, identify themselves as Christians; 13.2% or 27.5 million identify as non-religious or secular. Other faiths represented include the 1.3% (or 2.8 million) of U.S. people who identify themselves as Jewish; 0.5% (1 million) who identify themselves as Muslim; 0.5% (1 million) who identify themselves as Buddhists; 0.5% (991,000) who identify as agnostic; 0.4% (902,000) who identify as atheist; 0.4% (766,000) identify as Hindu; and 0.3% (629,000) who identify as Unitarian Universalist.
According to the same study, the major Christian denominations (making up the vast majority of faiths actively practiced in the United States) are (in order): Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal (aka Charismatic or Evangelical), Episcopalian, Latter-Day Saints, Church of Christ, and Congregational.
According to other studies, as reported by the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Americans' self-reported religious affiliations are 56% Protestant Christianity, 27% Catholic Christianity, 2% Judaism, 1% Orthodox Christianity, 1% Mormon Christianity, 5% "other specific", and 8% "other" or "did not designate." Some 68% of Americans are members of a place of worship, and 44% attend that place of worship regularly.
Most people commute to work using automobiles rather than mass transit; the effect of the automobile on the United States is significant.
Most jobs are based on a 40-hour work week; that is, five days (Monday through Friday), eight hours per day. The United States has minimum wage laws requiring a minimum wage for many employees, though a number of employment sectors are excluded. Minimum wage differs from state to state; some states have higher minimum wages than the wage mandated by the federal government.
Vacations are usually two weeks. Other company benefits may include sick days and/or personal days. Americans usually retire at the age of 65, but may retire earlier if their pension plans/financial status permits it.
Immediately after World War II, Americans began living in increasing numbers in the suburbs, belts around major cities with higher density than rural areas, but much lower than urban areas. This move has been attributed to many factors such as the automobile, the availability of large tracts of land, the increasing violence in urban centers (see white flight), and the cheapness of housing. These new single-family houses were usually one or two stories tall, and often were part of large contracts of homes built by a single developer. The resulting low-density development has been given the pejorative label "urban sprawl."
Couples often meet through religious institutions, work, school, or friends. "Dating services," services that are geared to assist people in finding partners, are popular both on and offline.
The trend over the past few decades has been for more and more couples deciding to cohabitate before, or instead of, getting married. The 2000 Census reported 9.7 million different-sex partners living together and about 1.3 million same-sex partners living together. These cohabitation arrangements have not been the subject of many laws regulating them, though some states now have domestic partner statutes and judge-made palimony doctrines that confer some legal support for unmarried couples.
Marriage laws are established by individual state. Same-sex marriage is currently legal only in Massachusetts. Two other states, Connecticut and Vermont, allow same-sex couples access to state-level marriage benefits with civil unions. In many states, it is illegal to cross state lines to obtain a marriage that would be illegal in the home state. Married couples typically reside in their own dwelling.
The typical wedding involves a couple proclaiming their commitment to one another in front of their close relatives and friends and presided over by a religious figure such as a minister, priest, or rabbi, depending upon the faith of the couple. In Christian ceremonies, the general practice is for the bride's father to "give away" the bride to the groom. Secular weddings are also common, often presided over by a judge, Justice of the Peace, or other municipal official.
Divorce, like marriage, is the province of the state governments, not the federal government. Divorce laws vary from state to state, but no-fault divorce on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences" is now available in all states except New York (whose nearest equivalent requires a one-year separation).
Prior to the 1970s, divorcing spouses had to allege that the other spouse was guilty of a crime or sin like abandonment or adultery; when spouses simply could not get along, lawyers were forced to manufacture "uncontested" divorces. The no-fault divorce revolution began in 1969 in California; South Dakota was the last state to allow no-fault divorce, in 1985.
State law provides for child support where children are involved, and sometimes for alimony. The divorce rate in the United States has been climbing for decades, and as of 2004 hovers around 50%.
During the 1990s, unpaid child support came to be seen as a major contributor to the growth of federal welfare programs. Congress partially federalized child support law to make it easier for custodial parents to locate noncustodial parents and seize their wages and assets.
Americans. Funerals are held to honor the "passing away" of the individual. Unlike many other cultures, even that of neighboring Mexico, death is looked upon by most Americans as a much greater sadness, and is dealt with in a much more subdued manner. Nonetheless, the majority of Americans do not express the same high degree of emotion as would be found in some other cultures, such as those of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Whereas some cultures may celebrate the passing of an individual with music which the deceased enjoyed or wearing colors that were favorites of the dead acquaintice, in the United States, the death of a loved one is typically seen as a time to mourn deeply, wearing all black, and making the pain and sadness that one is feeling known. However, certain segments of American culture, such as residents of New Orleans, have historically been associated with a very different attitude toward funerals, such as that embodied in the Jazz funeral tradition.
The deceased person is typically placed in a coffin and are generally embalmed and often displayed in a chapel or funeral home for a day or two (occasionally longer) before being buried in the ground. Most adherents of Judaism, however, do not have their loved ones embalmed. Cremation, an increasingly common practice, involves the burning of the body to ashes, which are then stored in an urn or scattered over a site or location significant to the deceased.
Unlike some countries, including Western Europe, where the body remains in the cemetery only for a limited period of time—e.g., 20 years—in the United States there is typically no limit.
Most social roles are not gender-restricted by law, though there are still cultural inhibitions surrounding certain roles. More and more women have entered the workplace, and in the year 2000 made up 46.6% of the labor force, up from 18.3% in 1900. Most men, however, have not taken up the traditional full-time homemaker role; likewise, few men have taken traditionally feminine jobs such as receptionist or nurse (although nursing was traditionally a male role before the US Civil War).
Nuclear family living patterns
Beginning in the early 20th century, the two-parent family known as the nuclear family was the predominant American family type. Children live with their parents until they go away to a college or university, or until they acquire their own jobs and decide to move out into their own apartment or home. Children are expected to be out of the house by their mid 20s. While in some cultures (Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean) it is acceptable for an adult to remain in the parental household, a person over 25 living with their parents is viewed negatively by most Americans. This may come from the long tradition of individualism. Unconsciously, many Americans don't consider a person a "true adult" until he or she moves out of the parental nest. There are some exceptions to this custom, especially among Italian and Hispanic Americans, and in the extremely expensive regions of New York City, California, and Honolulu, where rents of $800 to over $1000 per month are the norm.
In the early to mid-20th century, the father typically was the sole wage earner and the mother was the children's principal caregiver. Today, often both parents hold jobs. Dual-earner families are the predominant type for families with children in the US. Increasingly, one of the parents has a non-standard shift (that is, a shift that does not start in the morning and end in the late afternoon). In these families, one of the parents manages the children while the other works.
Before they start school, adequate day care of children is necessary for dual-earner families; many private companies and home-based day care centers fulfill this need. Increasingly, corporate sponsorship of day care is occurring, as well as government assistance to parents requiring day care.
Single-parent living patterns
Single-parent households are households consisting of a single adult (most often a woman) and one or more children. These types of households have been increasing in number and, today, the majority of black households are single parent households. For whites, Hispanics, and other races, the predominant family household is still the two-parent family. Although the United States has a larger number of single-parent households than it did in the past, countries such as England have a higher percentage of single-parent households than the United States.
In the single-parent household, one parent typically raises the children with little to no help from the other. This parent is the sole breadwinner of the family and thus these households are particularly vulnerable economically. They have higher rates of poverty, and children of these households are more likely to have educational problems.
Variations in the majority traditions occur due to class, racial, ethnic, religious, regional and other groups of people.
Cultural differences in the various regions of the United States are explored in the New England, Mid-Atlantic States, U.S. Southern States, Midwest, Southwest United States and The West pages.
Puerto Rico has a largely separate culture from the mainland United States.
About half of Americans now live in what is known as the suburbs. The suburban nuclear family has been identified as part of the "American dream": a married couple with children owning a house in the suburbs.
This archetype is reinforced by mass media, religious practices, and government policies and is based on traditions from Anglo-Saxon cultures.
One of the biggest differences in suburban living is the housing occupied by the families. The suburbs are filled with single-family homes separated from retail districts, industrial areas, and sometimes even public schools.
Urban living patterns
Aside from housing, which may include more apartments and semi-attached homes than in the suburbs or small towns, the major difference from suburban living is the density and diversity of many different subcultures, as well as retail and manufacturing buildings mixed with housing. Urban residents are also more likely to travel by mass transit, and children are more likely to walk or bicycle rather than being driven by their parents.
Bill O’Reilly (commentator)
Secularization of Christmas
PC – Political Correctness