American exceptionalism is a hotly debated topic, and much decried by one particularly dyspeptic op-ed contributor to the New York Times. Some people believe it’s a real phenomenon, others think it’s a dangerous idea. But does America really stand out in a measurable way?Pew Research Center crunches the numbers, and its Fact Tank blog reports that on a number of key issues, Americans are genuine exceptions to rules and trends:
Americans’ emphasis on individualism and work ethic stands out in surveys of people around the world. When Pew Research Center surveyed people in 44 countries last spring, 57% of Americans disagreed with the statement “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,” a higher percentage than most other nations and far above the global median of 38%.True to the stereotype, surveys showed that Americans are more likely to believe that hard work pays off. When asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73% of Americans said it is was a “10” or “very important,” compared with a global median of 50% among the 44 nations.
America is also a strong exception to the global correlation between religiosity and wealth. In general, the wealthier a country is, the less religious. Not so in America, as Pew’s most fascinating chart shows:Another weird American trait that the numbers bear out is our sense that things are going well. Pews respondents, when asked if “today is a good day,” were much more likely to respond positively if they were American. Generally, we are more individualistic, less fatalistic, more confident that hard work will bring success, more religious (than other rich countries) and happier. It seems Americans aren’t like other people after all.