American culture is a Western culture, with influences from Europe, the Native American peoples, African Americans and young groups of immigrants. The United States has traditionally been known as a melting pot, but recent academic opinion is tending towards cultural diversity, pluralism and the image of a salad bowl rather than a melting pot. Due to the extent of American culture there are many integrated but unique subcultures within the United States. The strongest influences on American culture came from northern European cultures, most prominently from Germany, Ireland and England.
It is important to bear in mind that the United States of America is highly diverse, by way of region. The South is entirely different from the Northeast, which is itself in many ways foreign to the Mid-West, which adheres to an entirely different cultural attitude than the West. There really isn't any single "American" attitude, or "American" style for the simple reason that the country is so extraordinarily diverse.
The formative years of the United States were the late 18th century when the country was founded, and a great deal of American culture is couched in the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Declaration of Independence's mission statement about securing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; the French Revolution's ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity; and the national motto, 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 have fled persecution or oppression in their home countries, and are 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.
SOCIETY AND ECONOMIC ATTITUDES
There is a close relationship between America's political and economic traditions. It is widely believed that the individual pursuit of self-interest leads to the best result both for the individual and for society as a whole. It has been a successful formula for both economic success and optimal political function for many. The precise amount of individual economic freedom that Americans should have is often debated, with the (usually relatively slight) differences in opinion marking the major differences between political parties. The end result, however, is that the U.S. economy has become the largest on earth, with most of its citizens enjoying comparatively high living standards.
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 American process of Judicial Review caused the United States to be less affected by socialist ideas and policies in the 20th century than was Europe, because the Supreme Court overturned much labor legislation which in the European countries remained law. 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.
RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER COUNTRIES/CULTURES
Perhaps as a result of being such a large single market / culture, some believe that Americans are relatively insulated and uninterested in the culture or political developments of other countries. America is one of few nations that has resisted changing to the metric system. Comparatively few books from non-English European countries or Japan are translated for sale in the United States. Imported films are generally less successful than domestic. Though there are exceptions, including Japanese anime and the British comedy phenomenon Monty Python, imported television shows are generally rarely successful outside of PBS and Discovery Channel. Remakes of foreign shows are increasingly common, as emphasized by the popularity of the American versions of The Office and Queer as Folk; in these cases, the show is often rewritten and localized with American actors cast in the place of their British counterparts. Relatively few foreign films and television programs produced abroad are broadcast on non-ethnic stations with dubbing or subtitling.
Americans also tend to travel to other countries less than citizens of European countries, partly because intercontinental 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 within the continental United States from a near-tropical region (e.g. Southern Texas) to a frigid region (Minnesota). Washington and California offer ocean, mountains, and prairie within a single state. Lifestyles, food, and culture also tend to differ within the different regions.
BODY CONTACT AND EXPRESSION
In most regions of the U.S., public display of affection, as well as significant expression of emotion, was historically disapproved of and discouraged, prior to the mid-20th century. Such attitudes have seen considerable change, however, with the cultural revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s. There is considerable variation with respect to attitudes, mostly generational in nature, and while Americans are not generally as demonstrative of their affections as, say, Latin Americans or Southern Europeans, they are considerably more so than, for instance, the Northern Europeans or the Japanese, have been historically. Noticeable regional differences in norms of social expression also exist. For example, it is generally acceptable in the socially liberal Northeast (especially among younger Americans) for a female candidly to discuss sexuality and certain aspects of sexual behavior in conversation among friends, while such expression is usually recognized as socially taboo in the more genteel South.
The citizens and many other residents of the United States refer to themselves and each other as Americans, and to their country as the United States or as America. Non-Hispanic Americans understand, and may say, "the Americas" with the meaning of the two major continents of the Western hemisphere, but generally will resist using "America" in that sense, despite that designation's familiarity to Spanish speakers. While to many foreigners "Yankees" is synonymous with the American people, Americans almost always use the term for the sports team, for New Englanders, New Yorkers, or with reference to those living in the northeastern U.S. in contrast to Southerners. The major exception to that is Americans' occasional ironic usage of "Yankee" (or especially "Yank", construed by Americans as a British usage), in attempting to convey either striving to transcend American parochialism, or resignation to the failure of any such striving. "The States" is a term generally used when referring to the country from an overseas or Canadian vantage point. In the same context, something or someone that is "back in the States" may be referred to as being "Stateside." "The US" or "The U.S." is a casual, short-hand term.
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." or "U.S." (with or without the periods, and usually with "the"); a more marked version is "the U. S. of A." In the nineteenth century it was fairly common for Americans to refer to their nation simply as "the Republic," an appellation which has since fallen out of use. 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 Texans are notorious for an especially prominent state pride often compared to nationalism. 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, another one with two similar sized Texas cities of Dallas, Texas and Houston, Texas. A strong rivalry that continues to this day involves the cities of Boston and New York, which is centered around the historic rivalry in the sport of baseball 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 greatly and depend upon the region of the country and the family's own cultural heritage. Recent immigrants tend to eat food similar to that of their country of origin, and Americanized versions of these cultural foods, such as American Chinese cuisine or Italian-American cuisine often eventually appear. German cuisine also had a profound impact on American cuisine, especially the mid-western cuisine, with potatoes and meat being the most iconic ingredients in both cuisines.
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.
Around the world the United States is perhaps best known for its numerous and successful fast food franchises. Such chains, including McDonald's, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken are known for selling simply, pre-prepared meals of foods such as hamburgers, French fries, soft drinks, fried chicken, and ice cream.
Though undeniably popular, such food, with its emphasis on deep-frying, has been criticized by dietitians in recent decades for being unhealthy and a cause of obesity. It has thus become somewhat of a stereotype to associate American cuisine with obesity and junk food, but in reality fast food represents only a tiny fraction of available American cuisine.
The American state of California (especially the Hollywood region) is home to a thriving motion picture industry, with prominent film studios such as Warner Brothers, Paramount creating dozens of multi-million dollar films every year that are enjoyed around the world. American actors are often among the world's most popular and easily identified celebrities. It's worth noting that Hollywood also tends to attract many immigrant actors and directors from around the world, many of whom, such as actor Russell Crowe or director Ang Lee become just as famous and successful as American-born stars.
The United States was a leading pioneer of television as an entertainment medium, and the tradition remains strong to this day. Many American television sitcoms, dramas, game shows and reality shows remain very popular both in the US and abroad. Animation is a popular US entertainment medium as well, both on the large and small screen. The characters created by Walt Disney and Warner Brothers animation studios remain very popular. In music, the United States has pioneered many distinct genres, such as country and western, jazz, hip hop, and gospel. African-American cultural influences play a particularly prominent role in many of these traditions.
TECHNOLOGY AND GADGETS
Americans, by and large, are often fascinated by new technology and new gadgets. There are many within the United States that share the attitude that through technology, many of the evils in the society can be solved. Many of the new technological innovations in the modern world were either first invented in the United States and/or first widely adopted by Americans. Examples include: the lightbulb, the airplane, the transistor, nuclear power, the personal computer, and online shopping, as well as heavily influencing the development of the internet. The iPod, the most popular gadget for portable digital music, is also American.
By comparison with Japan, however, only a small fraction of electronic devices make it to sale in the US, and household items such as air conditioners and even toilets are rarely festooned with remotes and electronic buttons as they are in Asia. Innovations as simple as the plastic shopping bag, universal in Asia have still not completely supplanted the paper bag.
The United States pioneered the inexpensive, mass marketed automobile. Relative to Europe and Asia, both land and energy costs are lower, which favors the building of extensive road networks and relatively large, powerful comfortable cars, of which the Ford Crown Victoria is one of the the last surviving examples. Americans have tended to avoid the importing of expensive, sophisticated designs such as the Eagle Premier and Ford Contour in favor of less expensive, larger cars. The culture in the 1950s and 1960s often catered to the automobile with Motels and Drive-in restaurants. Americans tend to view obtaining a driver's license as a rite of passage, and outside of dense urban areas such as New York City, most Americans of all ages and genders expect to own and drive cars.
The culture of the United States distinguishes sharply between legal, illegal, and prescription drugs. The three main legal drugs are alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. The use and sale of illegal drugs such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine carries heavy penalties; the U.S. expends significant resources in combatting the enterprises that produce and import such commodities, in what is termed the War on Drugs. Antidepressant drugs are widely prescribed, as are amphetamines such as Ritalin, used as a stimulant to improve concentration.
In the history of the United States, the sale and consumption of alcohol was banned completely in the time of Prohibition, also known as The Noble Experiment, from 1919 to 1933, during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under substantial pressure from the temperance movement, the United States Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917. Having been approved by 36 states, the 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and effected on January 16, 1920. Some state legislatures had already enacted statewide prohibition prior to the ratification of the 18th Amendment.
The Volstead Act, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, passed through Congress over President Woodrow Wilson's veto on October 28, 1919 and established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor. Though the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of alcohol, it did little to enforce the law. The illegal production and distribution of liquor, or bootlegging, became rampant, and the national government did not have the means or desire to enforce every border, lake, river, and speakeasy in America. In fact, by 1925 in New York City alone there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs.
Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression, especially in large cities. On March 23, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages. On December 5, 1933, the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.
Today, alcohol is legal but restricted. For example, in many places stronger beverages may only be purchased from specialist shops. The drinking age, 21 in most places, is widely enforced and there is little tradition of alcohol consumption in a family context. While some American (particularly Californian) wine is highly regarded, most beer consumed in the U.S. is mass-produced rice lager.
Use of tobacco has decreased sharply among Americans. Since 1965, rates of smoking in the United States have declined from 42% to 20%. There is a strong correlation with education, with use at only 10 percent among the college educated, while continuing at 40 percent among high school dropouts. It is illegal to sell tobacco products to minors in the United States. In 46 of the 50 United States, the minimum age is 18, except for Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah where the legal age is 19.
As of May 2009, 24 states have enacted smoking bans in all general workplaces and public places, including bars and restaurants (though many of these exempt tobacconists, cigar bars, casinos, and/or private clubs). Seven have enacted smoking bans that exclude all adult venues such as bars (and casinos where applicable). Georgia, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia have particularized state laws banning smoking in specific places but leaving out all others. The remaining 13 states have no statewide smoking ban at all, though many cities and/or counties in most of those states have enacted local smoking bans to varying degrees (Oklahoma prohibits local governments from passing smoking laws at all, and in Michigan local governments cannot ban smoking in restaurants and bars).
As for U.S. jurisdictions that are not states, smoking is banned in all public places (including bars and restaurants) in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Guam prohibits smoking in restaurants, but the ban doesn't extend to workplaces or any other businesses. American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands have no smoking bans.
Coffee is used as a stimulant and in a social context. America's take on the coffee shop has proved particularly successful, with Starbucks (founded in Seattle) having spread across the world as a symbol of American capitalism.
American sports are quite distinct from those played elsewhere in the world. The top three spectator team sports are baseball, American football and basketball, which are all popular on both the college and professional levels. Baseball is the oldest of these. The professional game dates from 1869 and had no close rivals in popularity until the 1960s; though baseball is no longer the most popular sport it is still referred to as the "national pastime." Also unlike the professional levels of the other popular spectator sports in the U.S., 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.
Most residents along the northern tier of states recognize a fourth major sport - ice hockey. Always a mainstay of Great Lakes and New England-area culture, the sport 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.
The top tier of stock car auto racing, NASCAR, has grown from a mainly Southern sport to the second-most-watched sport in the U.S. behind football. It has largely outgrown a previously provincial image; it is now avidly followed by fans in all socioeconomic groups and NASCAR sponsorships in the premier Nextel Cup division are highly sought after by hundreds of the U.S.'s largest corporations.
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 affluent backgrounds (giving rise to the "soccer mom" stereotype). Dramatic growth in youth participation has fueled the national team's steady rise in caliber of play over the last two decades of the 20th century and the 2000s. Almost as many girls as boys play youth soccer in the U.S., contributing to the women's national team becoming one of the world's premier women's sides.
The extent in America to which sports are associated with secondary and tertiary education is unique among nations. In basketball and football, high school and particularly college sports are followed with a fervor equaling or exceeding that felt for professional sports; college football games can draw six-digit crowds, many prominent high school football teams have stadiums that seat tens of thousands of spectators, and the college basketball championship tournament played in March draws enormous attention. 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 many large universities, minimum standards do 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, San Francisco, 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 commonplace among females. Men of Scottish or Irish descent wear kilts 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 in 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.
The primary, although not official, language of the United States is English. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, more than 97% of Americans can speak English well, and for 81% of the population, it is the only language spoken at home.
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, and other native languages with large numbers of speakers (like Navajo)
- Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog (Filipino dialect) due to immigration from the countries where those languages are spoken, and
- French, in Louisiana (a former French colony, where Cajun French is spoken), and in northern New England, home to many French Canadian immigrants in the past and which is also influenced by neighboring Acadian-Canadian culture.
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.
Historically, the United States' religious tradition has been dominated by 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 and growing in numbers. 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.
The largest religion in the US is Christianity, practiced by the majority of the population (76% of the U.S. adult population in 2008). Roughly half of Americans are Protestants and one-fourth are Roman Catholics. Today, with 16.6 million adherents (5.3% of the total population), Southern Baptist is the largest of more than 200 distinctly named Protestant denominations. Mormons (1.4% or 3.2 million) are predominant in Utah, and are present in significant numbers in neighboring states. Despite its status as the most widespread and influential religion in the US, Christianity is undergoing a continuous relative decline in demographics. While the absolute number of Christians rose from 1990 to 2008 as the overall population increased, the actual percentage of Christians dropped from 86.2% to 76.0%.
Many people identify themselves as non-religious or secular. This category included atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others with no theistic religious beliefs or practices. Figures are up from 14.3 million in 1990 to 34.2 million in 2008, representing a proportionate increase from 8% of the total in 1990 to 15% in 2008.
After Christianity and no-religion, Judaism is the third-largest religious preference in the US. Jews have been present in the US since the 17th century, though large scale immigration did not take place until the 19th century, largely as a result of persecutions in parts of Eastern Europe. Around 1.2% of adult Americans (2.7 million) belong to this group (compared to 3.1 million or 1.8% of the U.S. adult population in 1990) Approximately 25% of this population lives in New York City.
Buddhism entered the U.S. during the 19th century with the arrival of the first immigrants from Eastern Asia. The first Buddhist temple was established in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese Americans. During the late 19th century Buddhist missionaries from Japan came to the US. Simultaneously to these processes, U.S. intellectuals started to take interest in Buddhism. The number of Buddhists in the United States (as of 2008) is estimated at 1.2 million or 0.5% (compared to 0.4 million or 0.2% of the U.S. adult population in 1990).
The history of Islam in the U.S. starts in the early 16th century with the confirmed arrival of Muslim explorer and sailor Estevanico of Azamor and early Muslim visitors. Once very small, the Muslim population has increased greatly in the last one hundred years. Much of the growth has been driven by immigration and conversion. Research indicates that Muslims in the U.S. are generally more assimilated and prosperous than Muslims in Europe. Surveys also suggest, however, that they are less assimilated than other American subcultural and religious communities. There are many Islamic political and charity organizations supporting this community. The number of Muslims in the U.S. is controversial. The estimated number of Muslims in the United States (according to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey) is 1.4 million (0.6% of the U.S. adult population).
Many other religions are represented in the United States, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Unitarian Universalism, Jainism, Shintoism, Taoism, Caodaism, the Baha'i Faith, Heathenism, Neopaganism, Zoroastrianism, Jediism, and many forms of New Age spirituality.
WORK AND JOBS
Most people commute to work using automobiles rather than mass transit (the New York Metropolitan Area is a notable exception); the effect of the automobile on the United States and its prominence in American life cannot be overestimated. Most jobs are based on a 40-hour work week; that is, five days (Monday through Friday), eight hours per day. By law, after 40 hours, employers must pay overtime which is time and a half. On holidays, some companies pay double. 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.
According to equal opportunity labor laws, it is not allowed to discriminate based on race, gender, religion, political convictions, family situation, marital or parental status. In addition, applicants need not provide photos or personal information on these topics, however drug tests and criminal background checks are sometimes required. Employees must pay federal and state income tax to the government. In most cases, employees are not allowed to attend work after drinking alcohol or to drink alcohol during work. Exceptions include some restaurant jobs, bars and business meetings.
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. US companies often offer benefits such as health and dental insurance, and life insurance. In addition, the benefits can often include the employee's family as well. A few companies provide various lessons for free, such as relaxation to improve their work performance. However, most benefits are not mandated by law, and there is a large range of wages, compensation and benefits in different types of jobs. Generally, the most physically demanding jobs such as construction and farm labor are the least well compensated. Compared to most European systems, work culture in the USA seems to be much harder for employees. For example, here is less paid vacation, paid sick days, maternity leave and benefits for parents.
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." This is changing, however. "White flight" is reversing, with many Yuppies and upper-middle-class, empty nest Baby Boomers returning to urban living, usually in condominiums, such as in New York City's Lower East Side, and Chicago's South Loop. The result has been the displacement of many poorer, inner-city residents. American cities with housing prices near the national median have also been losing the middle income neighborhoods, those with median income between 80% and 120% of the metropolitan area's median household income. Here the more affluent members of the middle class, who are also often referred to as being professional or upper middle class, have left in search of larger homes in more exclusive suburbs. This trend is largely attributed to the so called, "Middle class squeeze," which has caused a starker distinction between the statistical middle class and the more privileged members of the middle class. In more expensive areas such as California, however, another trend has been taking place where an influx of more affluent middle class households has displaced those in the actual middle of society and converted former, middle-middle class neighborhoods into upper middle class neighborhoods.
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 off line. 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.
According to data collected by the US Center For Disease Control's National Center For Health Statistics, the U.S. divorce rate average in 1900 was 0.7 per 1,000 residents. The U.S. divorce rate gradually rose through most of the 20th Century to a high point, in 1981, of 5.3 per 1,000 and has been declining since. The present-day U.S. average divorce rate is estimated at 3.6 per 1,000 (the marriage rate is estimated at 7.5 per 1,000 total population).
Deaths are generally thought to be an occasion for grieving by the majority of 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 acquaintance, 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.
Since the 1970s, traditional gender roles of male and female have been increasingly challenged by both legal and social means. Today, there are far fewer roles that are legally restricted by one's sex. The military remains a notable exception, where women may not be put into direct combat by law. Asymmetrical warfare, however, has put women into situations which are direct combat operations in all but name.
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).
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 and teutonic European) it is acceptable for an adult to remain in the parental household. Otherwise a person over 25 living with their parents is viewed negatively by most Americans. This may come from the long tradition of individualism. However, this perception appears to be changing as more Americans empathize with rising costs of living; many young adults now remain with their parents well past their mid-20s. This topic was a cover article of TIME magazine in 2005. 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 U.S. $1000 to over U.S. $4000 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 and provide parental care. Dual-earner families are the predominant type for families with children in the U.S. 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). 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. Many working class families, however, fail to qualify for government assisted healthcare but fall short of being middle class and thus cannot afford quality day care.
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 the U.K. 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.
The population of rural areas has been declining over time as more and more people migrate to cities for work and entertainment. The great exodus from the farms came in the 1940s; in recent years fewer than 2% of the population lives on farms (though others live in the countryside and commute to work). Electricity and telephone, and sometimes cable and Internet services are available to all but the most remote regions. As in the cities, children attend school up to and including high school and only help with farming during the summer months or after school.
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.
In urban living, 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.
American values may be contrasted with European, and more extremely Asian cultural values. It may be noted that while America is dominated by assimilated Europeans, it is also home to various other racial and cultural groups. Here are some contrasts:
- Europeans and Asians remark about America's valuing "freedom" in its many manifestations.
- Americans encourage experimentation and often view failure as just one step towards success.
- Individuality is encouraged, though conformity is still a default.
- Americans encourage building your own peer networks, as compared to hierarchical systems, such as Confucianism, which establish hierarchies within blood family and employment.
- Although bonding with people of like backgrounds is a default, reaching out to those different is encouraged.
- America has no formal class or caste system, but there is a belief that with enough luck and or effort, informal boundaries can be crossed, as a topic of many movie plots.
- There is a somewhat naive but optimistic belief that all problems can be fixed with enough commitment and effort. Gino's Pizza radio ad: "About that leaning tower, we can send our boys over there and fix it right up".
- Relative to Asian societies, Americans like to speak out, express opinions, shake hands, network / socialize with complete strangers, and hug. Immigrants from all nations, particularly children are sometimes torn between their ancestral and their new host country's values.