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United States of America (USA) - Culture, Society and Religion
Culture & Society
Western culture is the primary culture in the US with many Latin and African influences. Asian influences are also practised. The ethnic diversity is widespread due to mass immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. European cultures are derived from the English, Scottish and Irish due to the early British rule of the country. Later influences came from Germany, Italy and France.
Jefferson Democracy is deeply embedded as this was the first solid grounding that Americans had in direct opposition to the European settlement of America’s earliest days. This is apparent in celebration days such as Independence Day (July 4th) and in national holidays such as Thanksgiving and Labor Day.
Values and Beliefs
On the whole, the USA is often viewed as a strongly religious (Christian) nation. However, this view can be deceptive. The vast majority of the populace is rather moderate in its views, including in religious attitudes. In fact, American values such as freedom and equality jibe well with those of more secular nations. In the USA people strive to combine a strong sense of ethics with efforts to do good, while freely “being themselves” as independent individuals. However, negative characteristics of American culture are often described as material greed, narrow-minded righteousness, and being insular despite the worldliness of many citizens. Americans are often seen as having a “live to work” attitude, rather than the “work to live” attitude of many Europeans. This quality can be difficult for some expats to get used to.
Certain values and beliefs vary by region. The South is characterized as very conservative in its political and religious views; for this reason, this part of the country is often referred to as the “bible belt.” The west coast tends to be more liberal in its views. Certain communities in California, Oregon, and Washington have a large “hippie culture.” New York, like many urban areas, is quite progressive on the whole.
The current population of the USA is estimated to be 303,824,640 (July 2008 est.), of which just over 50% are female. The most densely populated states in the nation at the moment are New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. States with the fewest number of inhabitants include Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (with Wyoming being the least populated at less than 550,000 people; this accounts for only 0.17 percent of the total population of the US).
According to researchers at the Manhattan Institute, the number of foreign-born Americans is currently around 33 million. The largest group of immigrants is currently from Mexico, followed by China. Rounding out the top ten list of the foreign-born population include immigrants from, respectively, the Philippines, India, Vietnam, Cuba, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Canada, and Korea. It is estimated that by 2050 nearly one-fourth of the US population will be of Hispanic descent.
States that attract the most immigrants are California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. You will see many ethnic combinations in America that do not exist in Europe. How different racial and ethnic groups are integrated into society is a major issue within America. More detailed information on this complex and important subject can be found at www.manhattan-institute.org/meltingpot and usinfo.state.gov/journals/itsv/1204/ijse/singer.htm.
Censuses are conducted every 10 years to collect demographic and economic data. It is mandatory for all US residents to participate in a census. The next census will take place in 2010. Information on the next census, as well as statistics from the last census, can be found on the US Census Bureau's official web site: www.census.gov.
Broadly speaking, American culture is made up of many different norms and religious beliefs follow the same pattern. There are many different affiliations in the US and as a country, it is one of the most religious areas in the world. This has led to many strident and difficult debates such as those regarding homosexuality and abortion. These two topics in particular are hotly debated.
Early-day settlers brought with them secular religions such as Quakerism and Puritanism. Pennsylvania has been declared a safe haven for those who prefer to lead their own lives within the bounds of their religion. The Amish community in Pennsylvania remains completely within their areas (although as legal citizens of the US, they are bound by state laws) and are largely left alone apart from by tourists. This is known as religious freedom and has been written into the constitution of each state.
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