Posted by Lexington Green on March 5th, 2013 (All posts by Lexington Green)
These findings are consistent with the claims that Jim Bennett and I make in our upcoming book America 3.0.
Americans stand out relative to Westerners on phenomena that are associated with independent self‐concepts and individualism. A number of analyses, using a diverse range of methods, reveal that Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Lipset, 1996; Morling & Lamoreaux, 2008; Oyserman et al., 2002). The observation that the U.S. is especially individualistic is not new, and dates at least as far back as Toqueville (1835). The unusually individualistic nature of Americans may be caused by, or reflect, an ideology that particularly stresses the importance of freedom and self‐sufficiency, as well as various practices in education and child‐rearing that may help to inculcate this sense of autonomy. American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep (Burton & Whiting, 1961; also see Lewis, 1995), reflecting that from the time they are born, Americans are raised in an environment that emphasizes their independence (on unusual nature of American childrearing, see Lancy, 2009; Rogoff, 2003).
The extreme individualism of Americans is evident on many demographic and political measures. In American Exceptionalism, sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset (1996) documents a long list of the ways that Americans are unique in the Western world. At the time of Lipset’s surveys, compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist (they have the most positions for elections and the most frequent elections, although they have among the lowest voter turnout rates). They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious. They were the most churchgoing in Protestantism, and the most fundamentalist in Christendom, and were more likely than others from Western industrialized countries to see the world in absolute moral terms. In contrast to other large Western industrialized societies, the United States had the highest crime rate, the longest working hours, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of volunteerism, the highest percentage of citizens with a post-secondary education, the highest productivity rate, the highest GDP, the highest poverty rate, and the highest income-inequality rate; and Americans were the least supportive of various governmental interventions. The United States is the only industrialized society that never had a viable socialist movement; it was the last country to get a national pension plan, unemployment insurance, and accident insurance; and, at the time of writing, remain the only industrialized nation that does not have a general allowance for families or a national health insurance plan. In sum, there is some reason to suspect that Americans might be different from other Westerners, as de Tocqueville noted.
Joseph Henrich, Steven J. Heine and Ara Norenzayan, “The Weirdest People in the World?,” Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010) 33, 61-135.