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Stereotypes of Americans

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Stereotypes of Americans are ethnic generalizations and oversimplified images or ideas about American people,[1][2] and are found in many societies worldwide. Americans here are defined as citizens of the United States. Stereotypes of Americans have been collectively internalized by societies, and are manifested by a society's media, literature, creative expressions, and general public opinion.[3][4][5][6] Some of the following stereotypes are more popular than the others, and some are not directed exclusively toward Americans. Most of the stereotypes are negative, but some are positive.[7] Negative stereotypes of other cultures and social groups are common in virtually all societies.[8][9]

Positive stereotypes[edit]


According to William Bennett, a positive stereotype of Americans is that they are very generous. The United States sends aid and supplies to many countries, and Americans may be seen as people who are charitable or volunteer.[10] De Tocqueville first noted, in 1835, the American attitude towards helping others in need. A 2010 Charities Aid Foundation study found that Americans were the fifth most willing to donate time and money in the world at 55%.[11] Total charitable contributions are higher in the US than in any other country,[12][13] and Americans are seen as compassionate by international observation, as well as self-identification.[14] The belief that the ingrained compassion yields the charitable acts is in congruence with the numbers that show the bulk of charitable giving goes to religious organizations.


Many travelers/tourists are taken aback by the overt friendliness of Americans. International tourists report that they believe the behavior to be fake at first, and then come to realize that this is just how many Americans are.[15][16]


Americans are seen as very positive, and optimistic people.[17][18][19] Optimism is seen as the driving force behind achievement of the American Dream. Europeans believe themselves to be more "down to earth realists", and view optimism as foolishness.


Americans are stereotyped as hardworking people, whether in their jobs or other matters.[9][20]

Negative stereotypes[edit]

Materialism, overconsumption and extreme capitalism[edit]

Perhaps the most popular stereotype of Americans is that of economic materialism. They may be seen as caring about nothing but money, judging everything by its economic value, and scorning those of lower socioeconomic status.[3][8]

Lack of education, tendency of ignorance and gullibility[edit]

Americans may be stereotyped as ignorant of all countries and cultures beyond their own.[8] This stereotype shows them as lacking intellectual curiosity, thus making them ignorant of other cultures, places, or anything outside of their own lives or the United States.[4] The idea of American students dumbing down is attributed to the declining standards of American schools and curricula.[21]

Racism and racialism[edit]

American people in general may be portrayed as racist or racialist, often discriminating against their minorities. Racism was a significant issue of American history and is still relevant today. According to Albert Einstein, racism is America’s “worst disease.” America is argued to be a “color-blind” society, but the extent of discrimination and prejudice among Americans is still controversial. When comparing attitudes and behaviors towards racism, there is a clear discrepancy between what people say, and do.[22] Racialized society, racial classification, and the concept of race is a part of the American culture, where it is frequently used in political contexts. Historical racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality, and has taken on more modern, indirect forms of expression, most prevalently symbolic racism. Many people in the U.S. maintain some prejudices against other races.[3][6][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37]

Gun-loving, violent culture[edit]

Americans have a long historical fondness for guns and this is often portrayed by American media. The idea of Americans as a gun-loving culture and the controversy that has stirred stems from the Second Amendment stating the "right of the people to keep and bear arms". A considerable percentage of Americans own firearms owing to the mass production of firearms in the 1840s.[38] The United States now has some of the toughest gun laws proposed by anti-gun advocates but also has the highest death rates caused by firearms in the developed world.[3][39][40][41] The international media often report American mass shootings, making these incidents well known internationally despite the fact that these kind of killings account for an extremely small portion of the firearms death rate.[42][43][44][45] The United States is ranked number 1 with a gun ownership rate of 88.8.[46] Kentucky leads the nation with the most gun owners with 134,028 NICS background checks per 100,000 residents.[47]

Environmental unconsciousness[edit]

Americans may be seen as reckless and imprudent people when it comes to the environment. They may be portrayed as lavish, driving high polluting SUVs and unconcerned about climate change or global warming. The United States (population 309 million) has the second-highest carbon dioxide emissions after China (population 1.33 billion),[48] and is one of the few countries which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.[49][50][51][52] In the context of stereotyping it is perhaps more relevant to look at CO2 production per capita - the USA compares favorably with oil-producing nations in the Middle East, with Qatar at 40.3 metric tons per capita versus the United States's 17.6 metric tons per capita, but not with most European countries. Germany, for instance, emits only 9.1 metric tons per capita.[53]

Arrogance and boastfulness[edit]

Anti-American street art, depicting Uncle Sam, with anti-imperialist slogan

Many people see Americans as arrogant people.[8][54]

Americans may be seen by people of other countries as arrogant and egomaniacal.[55][56] U.S. president Barack Obama has said that America has shown arrogance, been dismissive and even derisive.[40][57]

Unwarranted military intervention[edit]

See also: Pax Americana

Another stereotype is that Americans "want to be the world's policemen", believing that the entire world needs their help, even if it means military intervention and civilian casualties. This stereotype was most likely spawned from historical United States military interventions, which many people opposed.[40]

Consequences of American stereotypes[edit]

Along with many stereotypes, nations view the United States as one of the most powerful nations in the world. However, this view is partnered with the view that the United States is corrupt, arrogant, cold and bloodthirsty. Whether speaking about the United States’ government or the nation’s people as a whole, these views seem to stand even though these views are not exhaustively shared by the whole world. Peter Glick, co-author of “Anti-American Sentiment and America's Perceived Intent to Dominate: An 11-Nation Study,” conducted research on 5,000 college students from 11 different nations using the stereotype content model (SmC) and the image theory (IT) measure. “Consistent with the SCM and IT measure was the view that the United States is a nation intent on domination also with predicted perceptions that the nation is lacking warmth, and that the nation is arrogant, but out of incompetence.” As a result of similar views, anti-American sentiment can develop, and the United States’ security can be put at risk. For example, one of the most infamous anti-American acts against the United States was the 9/11 attacks. American stereotypes were not the main proponent of these attacks, but stereotypes become self-fulfilling and normative. If America is seen as arrogant, power hungry, intrusive, etc., then it is perceived that most American individuals exhibit this behavior, at least to some degree, and that the nation as a whole involves itself in situations in which it may have no business interfering.[58]

Common myths[edit]

People are often influenced by what they see in movies. Some Americans believe that all French people smoke and dress fashionably or that all Arabs are terrorists, and some tourists believe when they come to Texas, everyone will be riding a horse. Some myths emboldened by movies are as follows:

Everyone is middle class and wants to live in the suburbs[edit]

The “American Dream” is embodied by that of owning a two-story house, with a green lawn and a white picket fence. The reality is more people are moving out of the suburbs to be closer to jobs, commerce, and entertainment.[59]

Everyone carries a gun[edit]

People reporting ownership of firearms is declining,[60][61] however flaws in studies may lead to fewer people making ownership of firearms known.[citation needed]

New York City/Los Angeles/Chicago are very dangerous[edit]

American metropoles were dangerous once upon a time, but now they are far down the list with a sizeable gap between them and the most violent city in the U.S. (Flint, Michigan as of 2013[62]), with Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and other densely populated cities far below. When major cities across the globe are sorted by their murder rate, the highest ranked U.S. city is St. Louis at number 19 followed by Detroit at number 22.[63]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Definition of stereotype Oxford Dictionaries, The world's most trusted dictionaries
  2. ^ "Measuring Stereotypes: A Comparison of Methods Using Russian and American Samples", Walter G. Stephan, Vladimir Ageyev, Cookie White Stephan, Marina Abalakina, Tatyana Stefanenko and Lisa Coates-Shrider. Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 54-64
  3. ^ a b c d American TV and Social Stereotypes of Americans in Thailand by Kultida Suarchavarat, Texas Tech University, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, September 1988 65: 648-654
  4. ^ a b Students face US stereotypes abroad by Liz Wojnar - The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University, October 21, 2008/
  5. ^ Cultural Stereotypes About Americans University of Tampere, A FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture Reference File Department of Translation Studies, 27 April 2010
  6. ^ a b eduPASS | Cultural Differences | Stereotypes
  7. ^ Todd D. Nelson, ed. (February 2009). The unbearable accuracy of stereotypes in Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-8058-5952-2.
  8. ^ a b c d Confronting stereotypes of culture: American Stereotypes, Mathilde Dodson, University of Washington Tacoma, The Ledger, November 21, 2005; Accessed: 18.07.2012
  9. ^ a b Cultural Stereotypes by Lupita Fabregas - Oklahoma State University, The Newsline, February 2012
  10. ^ America the generous, CNN, By William J. Bennett, December 15, 2011
  11. ^ Crary, David (September 9, 2010). "Study finds Americans in generous mood". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1A. 
  12. ^ American giving
  13. ^ Goldberg, Eleanor (December 19, 2011). "SLIDESHOW: Which Country Is The Most Charitable On Earth?". Huffington Post. 
  14. ^ The Compassionate, Happy, Upbeat American. Brodeur Partners. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  15. ^ Does your experience reinforce the American stereotype? (Europeans, compared, time) - Page 6 - City-Data Forum
  16. ^ What positive stereotypes have you heard about Americans? : AskReddit
  17. ^ The American-Western European Values Gap, 2 Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project
  18. ^ Americans' Optimism About Financial Future by Frank Newport, Gallup Poll
  19. ^ Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy | Pew Global Attitudes Project
  20. ^ Students face US stereotypes abroad by Liz Wojnar - The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University, October 21, 2008/
  21. ^ Sykes, C. (1996). Dumbing Down Our Kids; Why American Children Feel Good about Themselves but Can't Read, Write, or Add. St. Martin's Press.
  22. ^ Beeghley,L. (2007).The Structure of Social Stratification in the United States.Pearson.
  23. ^ "A Brief History of the OMB Directive 15". American Anthropological Association. 1997. Retrieved 2007-05-18.
  24. ^ Why Doesn't the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State? | The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs
  25. ^ Why doesn't the US have a European style welfare state? by Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser Harvard University and NBER and Bruce Sacerdote * Dartmouth College and NBER September 2001
  26. ^ Why Americans don't care about income inequality, Nathan Glazer, Harvard University
  27. ^ In his 2009 visit to the US, the [UN] Special Rapporteur on Racism noted that “Socioeconomic indicators show that poverty and race and ethnicity continue to overlap in the United States. This reality is a direct legacy of the past, in particular slavery, segregation, the forcible resettlement of Native Americans, which was confronted by the United States during the civil rights movement. However, whereas the country managed to establish equal treatment and non-discrimination in its laws, it has yet to redress the socioeconomic consequences of the historical legacy of racism.”CERD Task Force of the US Human Rights Network (August 2010). "From Civil Rights to Human Rights: Implementing US Obligations Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)". Universal Periodic Review Joint Reports: United States of America. p. 44. 
  28. ^ Henry, P. J., David O. Sears. Race and Politics: The Theory of Symbolic Racism. University of California, Los Angeles. 2002.
  29. ^ Babington, Charles (September 22, 2008). "Poll: Views still differ sharply by race". Retrieved January 16, 2010. [A] new Associated Press-Yahoo News poll, conducted with Stanford University, shows ... that a substantial portion of white Americans still harbor negative feelings toward blacks. 
  30. ^ In like regard, anti-white groups, including the New Black Panthers and those of the Black Libertarian Theology, promote hatred of whites. In a summary of sociological research on the topic, Lincoln Quillian's annual review article concludes, "Aside from a small share of principled racists, most white Americans support the principle of equal treatment regardless of race and repudiate the practice of discrimination. At the same time, white respondents endorse many stereotypical beliefs, doubt the existence of significant racial discrimination, and show low levels of support for efforts to achieve racial equality through government intervention." Quillian, Lincoln (2006). "New Approaches to Understanding Racial Prejudice and Discrimination". Annual Review of Sociology 32 (1): 299–328. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.32.061604.123132. ISSN 0360-0572. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  31. ^ In ABC News polls in past years (up to 2007), six percent have self-reported prejudice against Jews, 27 percent against Muslims, 25 percent against Arabs, … and 34 percent have reported "some racist feelings." Karyn Chenoweth, "Americans: Less Predjudice Toward Hispanics Than Arabs, Overweight People," Monsters and Critics, Oct 8, 2007.
  32. ^ US Human Rights Network (August 2010). "The United States of America: Summary Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review". Universial Periodic Review Joint Reports: United States of America. p. 8. 
  33. ^ In a 2009 survey, 52% agreed there is "a lot of discrimination" against Hispanics; 49% agreed when asked the same question about Blacks; 58% when asked about Muslims. Pew Center for People and the Press, "Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination," September 9, 2009.
  34. ^ AFP: US minorities don't trust each other
  35. ^ Deep Divisions, Shared Destiny - A Poll of Black, Hispanic, and Asian Americans on Race Relations
  36. ^ USA’s record on racial discrimination under scrunity Amnesty International, 18 February 2008
  37. ^ Trayvon Martin: The myth of US post-racialism Al Jazeera, 22 Mar 2012 18
  38. ^ Rowland Berthoff. (1998). THE MYTH OF AN AMERICAN GUN CULTURE: FIVE STAR LIFT edition. St. Louis Post- Dispatch, p. D.9.
  39. ^ "The Seventh United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (1998 - 2000), data (PDF)". United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Retrieved 2006-11-08.
  40. ^ a b c The American-Western European Values Gap, Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project
  41. ^ "Why do Americans love their guns?" Al Jazeera
  42. ^ Batman cinema screening shooting: a history of mass shootings in the US since Columbine The Telegraph, 20 Jul 2012
  43. ^ Schütze installierte in seiner Wohnung Sprengstofffallen Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20-07-2012
  44. ^ Internacional - Polícia americana tenta desarmar explosivos em casa de atirador Jornal do Brasil, 20 de julho de 2012
  45. ^ Fusillade meurtrière à Aurora : «Les tirs partaient sans arrêt» Libération, Monde, 20 juillet 2012
  46. ^ "List of countries by gun ownership", Knowledge Encyclopedia
  47. ^ "States with the most guns", The Daily Beast
  48. ^ Countries of the World, 2012-2014 estimated population values. World Atlas. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  49. ^ Rob Gillies, Associated Press (December 12, 2011). "Canada formally pulls out of Kyoto Protocol on climate change". StarTribune. Retrieved November 2014.
  50. ^ "China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  51. ^ United Nations Statistics Division, Millennium Development Goals indicators: Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tonnes of CO2 (collected by CDIAC)
  52. ^ The environmentally unconscious one; or, Why I love America - Viewpoint - The Observer - University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College
  53. ^ CO2 emissions per capita 2010. World Bank. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  54. ^ Clark, Jayne (2006). That 'ugly American' image is getting a makeover guide. USA Today. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  55. ^ The End of Arrogance by Spiegel Staff, Der Spiegel Online International
  56. ^ America, the Arrogant? BY Jonathan Merritt 23 June 2012, Relevant Magazine
  57. ^ Harnden, Toby (April 3, 2009). "President Barack Obama: America has been 'arrogant and dismissive' towards Europe". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  58. ^ Glick, P. (2006). Anti-American Sentiment and America's Perceived Intent to Dominate: An 11-Nation Study. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 28(4), 363-373.
  59. ^ "U.S. Cities Growing Faster Than Suburbs - Real Time Economics - WSJ". The Wall Street Journal. 
  60. ^ Gun Ownership Statistics & Demographics | Statistic Brain
  61. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina; Gebeloff, Robert (March 9, 2013). "Rate of Gun Ownership Is Down, Survey Shows". The New York Times. 
  62. ^ The 25 Most Dangerous Cities In America Business Insider, June 13, 2013
  63. ^ [1]