20 Facts That Will Make You Understand America (Or Not)

Some say you can't boil human beings down to a series of numbers, but I disagree and I have an IQ of 156, according to an online test I took while it was secretly installing malware on my PC. So I'm not saying the following stats will tell you everything you need to know about America, but they'll tell you more than you probably wanted to know.

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20
4 In 10 Americans Would Save The Life Of Their Dog Over A Foreign Tourist

As in, if a bus was speeding toward both of them, and you could only save one. Note that the survey found this number is only this high if it's "their" dog and not just a random dog, so there's that. Also the number of dog-savers drops if instead of a tourist at risk, it's someone they actually know.

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I wonder what the results would actually be in a real-world situation and, who knows, maybe one day a scientist will go to jail for running the experiment. I mean, I'd probably save the tourist myself, but I wouldn't tell the pollster that on the phone. It'd make things too awkward between me and my dog if she overheard.

19
Most Americans Think Political Correctness Is A Problem

One surprising(?) poll found that 80% of Americans say the country is getting too PC. This other article disputes it but still cites another study claiming that 56% say people "are too easily offended" these days. A previous poll found that 71% feel like political correctness has "silenced necessary discussions." (But that one is from the conservative Cato Institute, so ...)

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Either way, it's clear that some kind of majority A) dislikes political correctness and B) probably can't articulate exactly what they mean by that. What annoys me is that usually we only aim the "PC" complaint in one direction. "I'm offended by the misuse of gender pronouns" is mocked as being "PC," but "I'm offended because you didn't stand for the national anthem" is not, somehow. I'd love to see the poll results when people are given both of those examples before answering. Actually, I probably would not love those results at all.

18
Empathy Among Young People Has Fallen 40%

Specifically, empathy among college students has fallen 40% in the last 20 years, which is so startling that it seems like their data has to just be wrong somehow. These are surveys going back decades, asking students about their obligation to help a stranger in trouble, or if they have a duty to see things from someone else's point of view, that kind of thing. And no matter how you ask the question or measure the results, there's been a sharp drop since 2000.

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Was 9/11 the triggering event? The rise of Fox News? Increasing wealth inequality? The popularity of social media and other platforms which encourage everyone to be the most antagonistic version of themselves? All of the above?

As the author of the study explains, empathy for strangers has been replaced with intense loyalty to one's own group (which in turn creates hatred for strangers). But you already know that if you have ever used the internet, or even just walked past someone who has.

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17
Churchgoing Americans Are More Likely To Support Torture

And the churchier we are, the more we support it. Among those who attend church weekly, 54% say the use of torture against terror suspects is "often" or "sometimes" justified. That jumps to 60% for white Evangelicals. Among non-churchgoers, it's 42% -- which is still way up there, considering these are merely "suspects" we're talking about. Though this poll was from 2009, so maybe people have gotten nicer in the Trump Era.

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"Hold on," you might be saying, "isn't these Evangelicals' entire religion based on a Middle Eastern man being wrongly tortured to death by the state?" Sure, but if we start digging into the process that got us from there to here, we'll be at it all day. (These hardest of the hardcore Christians are also much more likely to oppose increasing government assistance to the poor. It's a whole thing.)

Related: 19 Ways Americans Don't Realize Life In America Isn't Normal

16
Nearly 8 In 10 Say American Morality Is Getting Worse

About half say America's moral values are currently "poor" (the highest number since they started asking in 2002), and 77% say they're only getting worse. This one is amazing to me, because a number that high has to include people on both sides of some of these trends. You must have people enraged about the "gay agenda" and those upset about intolerance toward gays, with both declaring it to be an example of "poor moral values." But if you really want to go down the rabbit hole, stop and remember that this article is not a list of what people think, but of what they told a pollster.

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So think about what someone gains by believing in an increasingly corrupt world despite rapidly falling crime rates. I'll give you a hint: If you think the world is corrupt, it lets you feel better about yourself in comparison. So then the next question is, why has the psychological need for that "bad world" gone up so much in just the last couple of decades? I say if you want to save the world, figure that out first.

15
About 40% Support Discouraging The "Wrong" People From Having Kids

This survey went viral with headlines about 40% support for "eugenics." But I think that's kind of unfair, since that word implies forced sterilization and Nazi scientists, while the examples cited in the poll itself were things like giving teenagers financial incentives to delay getting pregnant.

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Still, "The wrong people are having children" is an extremely common belief, but one you never hear discussed in polite society. To put that 40% in perspective, only 25% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all cases (another 34% say it should be legal in "most cases"). But I can't think of a mainstream movie or TV show about how the wrong people are having babies, other than Idiocracy (currently the only movie in the Netflix "Eugenics Comedy" category).

14
33% Still Say Homosexuality Is Immoral

Just to be clear, that's an all-time low. On the other hand, you'd get the sense from popular culture that this is now an extreme fringe point of view, held by a marginal hate group made up of frothing social outcasts. Imagine a world in which 33% of movie characters or sitcom protagonists are openly anti-homosexuality, or where 33% of pop songs are about how same-sex relationships are wrong.

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Now think about how many of that 33% are still in positions to make decisions that affect people's lives. Hiring managers, police officers, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians ...

13
Only 43% Say Pornography Is Morally OK

That's also an all-time high (up several points from just a few years ago), but I say "only" 43% because there was that famous study a decade ago which found porn use to be nearly 100% among males in their 20s, and other studies have shown that clear majorities in all age groups partake. So this tells me that most people use porn, but then feel guilt or stress about it, I guess?

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Why does this matter? Well, people with that kind of internalized shame and conflict lash out, desperate for evidence that others are worse. Hey, maybe those people would turn around and tell a pollster that America's moral values are going down the toilet at the exact same time they themselves are masturbating to a Fortnite porn parody. See how that works? "Sure, I may indulge in this shameful pastime, but I can take solace in knowing I'm better than the nation of depraved degenerates that surely exists out there!"

Related: 24 Shocking Statistics That Change How You View Sex

12
Most Think Men And Women Have Equally Difficult Lives

That's 56% who say there's no difference between the sexes, while 35% say men have it easier, and just 9% say women have it easier in life. Surprisingly, the difference in responses between men and women isn't nearly as dramatic as the difference between political parties. Sorry, I realize now that's actually not surprising at all.

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11
We Tend To Only Befriend People Exactly Like Ourselves

Around 90% of Evangelical Christians say their friends are similar to them. That includes similar religion (91%), political views (86%), and ethnicity (88%). Another poll showed that 87% of white people's friends are also white, and 40% have no friends outside their own race.

Minority groups aren't quite as segregated, if for no other reason than that's pretty hard to do just because of sheer numbers. If you're in an 80% white college, it's easy for the white kids to only have white friends, but a minority has to reach across ethnic lines or go friendless.

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10
11% Of Americans Have Never Left The State They Were Born In

In fact, 13% have never been on a plane, and 37% never move away from their hometown. Only 42% of Americans have a passport (meaning 58% can't legally leave the country even if they want to), but that's actually a record high, and has skyrocketed in the last couple of decades. It was only 15% in 1997, though prior to that it was easier to travel to countries like Canada without one.

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This stat gets tossed around to make Americans sound like uncultured shut-ins, but obviously some of this is just poverty. It's a hell of a lot cheaper for the working poor to take a train from Germany to Switzerland than to fly from Kentucky to, well, anywhere.

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9
Around 10% Are Anti-Vaxxers

That's how many say the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. On one hand, this is an improvement. That number was 18% in 2011. On the other hand, it was the younger respondents who didn't trust vaccines in the new poll -- 15% of those 18-to-29, aka "the age when people tend to have kids."

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The percentage of babies who aren't getting vaccines at all is still really low (just 1.3%), but that number is edging up. Also, America is in the middle of its biggest measles outbreak in decades, which sprouted from communities with low vaccination rates. Between this and global warming, civilization's future will depend largely on our ability to overcome anti-science propaganda.

Related: 29 Ways America Is Super Weird, Compared To Other Countries

8
90% Of Americans Believe In God

... or some kind of higher spiritual power, if not the God of the Christian Bible. That's right, atheists, your belief system is as popular as being anti-vaccine. In fact, atheists are more disliked than any religious group in America and most people said they'd never vote for an atheist for public office as recently as 2012, but that's down to "just" 40% now.

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There's also a big overlap in types of spiritual belief -- 41% of the population, and 40% of Christians, believe psychics are real. Overall, 33% believe in reincarnation, and 29% believe in astrology. Side note: Nonbelievers vastly underestimate how important belief in the supernatural is to the species at large. Lots and lots of the decisions people make that affect you on a day-to-day basis are made based on magic, because a horoscope, medium, or answered prayer told them to. To be a part of that 10% is to be profoundly out of touch with how the average person thinks.

7
1 In 4 Haven't Read A Book In The Last Year

That's 24% who haven't read even part of a book. (Wait, does that include the Bible?) Numbers vary wildly by education levels, as you'd expect. This is actually lower than I'd have thought, and another poll had it even lower, with just 16% saying they hadn't read a book within the last year. (On the other end, there's a 35% core of heavy readers who go through about a book a month.)

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There are still panicked articles insisting that Americans are reading less than ever, with some data to back them up, but even they seem to dismiss the idea that "browsing the internet" can count as "reading." I mean, look how much smarter this article is making you. Hey, speaking of which ...

6
65% Believe They Are Of Above-Average Intelligence

Also I wonder how many of the 35% were lying and secretly think they're smarter. Reminder: This is only what people were willing to tell a pollster.

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Men were more confident in their intelligence than women -- 29% vs. 16% "strongly agreed" with the statement that they're above-average. Only 6% of all respondents thought of themselves as the dumbest of the dumb. Also, a shout-out to the 7% who marked "Don't know," which likely includes the smartest of the smart -- those who didn't have the time or energy for some bullshit survey.

5
The Number Of Vegetarians/Vegans Is Tiny, And Hasn't Grown In Decades

Only 5% of Americans are vegetarians, which has actually gone down a tick over the last 20 years. Vegans are only 3%. It was 2% in 2012. I don't know what this says about the character of Americans, but tell me this group doesn't seem wildly over-represented in popular culture. I guess because a lot of celebrities are vegan?

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But this is why you'll continually hear "They're coming for your hamburgers!" as a talking point against environmentalists. Love of meat is just about the only thing that unites us as a country. Yet ...

Related: 5 Shocking Statistics That Prove Working In America Sucks

4
Americans Spend Less Time Cooking And Eating Than Almost Anyone

I think this is secretly a huge deal, a striking indicator of what kind of society we have. We're one of the fattest countries, but are near the bottom in time spent cooking and eating.

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Americans spend 35% less time at the dinner table than the famously hard-working Japanese (spending just 74 minutes a day eating vs. 117), and almost half as much as the French (who average 135 minutes a day). We spend the least amount of time cooking of any country we have data on, due to our habit of getting dinner from drive-thrus.

Eating is a huge part of a culture -- not just what we eat, but the process, the ritual of it. It's when we relax and talk to family or co-workers. It's a nice little break in the day. America, on the other hand, is the home of the 30-minute lunch break. Our flag should be a picture of a guy choking down a Taco Bell burrito with one hand while driving with the other.

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3
Nearly 80% Of Americans Pee In The Shower

What does this say about us? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. All I can do is bring you the data; I can't tell you what to think about it. Also, 20% of us bring a drink into the shower. Or at least, that's how many of us thought it would be funny to tell that to a pollster.

2
43% Have Assigned Seating In Their Living Room

As in, everybody sits in the same spot every time. This blew my mind, because I realize it works like this in my home, but we never discussed it. We just started doing it. Also, I grew up with furniture stores advertising recliners as "This is Dad's Special Chair," and you still see that in some sitcoms. It was an important part of the family dynamic, the seating hierarchy, complete with a reclining Dad Throne and a spot for Mom to sit and knit scarfs.

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So I guess I want a follow-up poll asking the important question, which is how mad people get if somebody sits in the wrong seat.

1
1 In 5 Are In Chronic Pain

And 8% are in "high-impact" chronic pain, meaning the pain is bad enough that they can't live a normal life. One out of 12 people you pass on the street are in absolute agony.

That's something to keep in mind the next time you run into a rude driver, or a raging customer, or an antagonistic person on the internet. Pain messes with your mind, drains your energy, ruins your concentration. The old and the poor are also more likely to be in pain, so that's just another proverbial cockroach in their chili.

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Society is, at the end of the day, just a big pile of other people's coping mechanisms. I guess we should try to remember that.

You can follow Jason "David Wong" Pargin on Twitter, his Instagram, or Facebook, or Goodreads, or any of the many accounts he's forgotten about.

For more, check out Why Americans Suck At Partying - The Spit Take:


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