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Stereotypes of Americans

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Stereotypes of American people (here meaning US citizens) can today be found in virtually all cultures.[1] They often manifest in America's own television and in the media's portrayal of America as seen in other countries, but can also be spread by literature, art and public opinion.[2][3][4][5] Not all of the listed stereotypes are equally popular, nor are they all restricted towards Americans; and although most can be considered negative, a few actually assign neutral, positive or even admiring qualities to the stereotypical US citizen.[6] Many of the ethnic stereotypes collide with otherwise unrelated political anti-Americanism.[7][8]

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.[9] 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%.[10] Total charitable contributions are higher in the US than in any other country,[11][12] and Americans are seen as compassionate by international observation,[citation needed] as well as self-identification.[13] 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.


Americans are seen as very positive and optimistic people.[14][15][16] Optimism is seen as the driving force behind achievement of the American Dream.


Americans are stereotyped as hardworking people, whether in their jobs or other matters.[8][17]

Negative stereotypes[edit]

"Gun-loving" culture of violence[edit]

The United States has a historical fondness for guns, and this is often portrayed in American media. A considerable percentage of Americans own firearms, and the United States now has some of the developed world's highest death rates caused by firearms.[2][18][19][20] 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.[21][22][23][24] The United States is ranked number 1 with a gun ownership rate of 88.8 guns per 100 residents.[25]

Materialism, over-consumption and extreme capitalism[edit]

Perhaps the most common stereotype of Americans is that of economic materialism. They may be seen as caring about nothing but money, judging all things by their economic value, and scorning those of lower socioeconomic status.[2][7]

Lack of cultural awareness[edit]

Americans may be stereotyped as ignorant of all countries and cultures beyond their own.[7] This stereotype shows them as lacking intellectual curiosity, thus making them ignorant of other cultures, places, or lifestyles outside of their own.[3] The idea of American students dumbing down is attributed to the declining standards of American schools and curricula.[26]

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.”[citation needed] America is argued to be a “color-blind”[citation needed] society, but the extent of discrimination and prejudice among Americans is still controversial.[27]

Environmental ignorance[edit]

Americans may be seen as reckless and imprudent people regarding the preservation of the environment. They may be portrayed as lavish, driving high polluting SUVs and unconcerned about climate change or global warming. The United States (whose population is 318.9 million) has the second-highest carbon dioxide emissions after China (whose population is 1.357 billion),[28] and is one of the few countries which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol.[29][30][31][32] 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.[33]

Arrogance and boastfulness[edit]

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

Some people see Americans as arrogant people.[7][34]

Americans may be seen by people of other countries as arrogant and egomaniacal.[35][36] U.S. president Barack Obama has said that America has shown arrogance, been dismissive and even derisive.[19][37]

Military zeal[edit]

See also: Pax Americana

Another common stereotype is that Americans want to be "the world's policemen", believing that the entire world needs their help – even if this results in preemptive military intervention – because someone or something makes them inherently exceptional. This relatively recent stereotype spawned from Cold War and post-Cold War military interventions such as the Vietnam War and Iraq War, which many people opposed.[19]

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 eleven countries 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.[38]

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.[39]

Everyone carries a gun[edit]

People reporting ownership of firearms is declining,[40][41] 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 sizable gap between them and the most violent city in the U.S. East St. Louis, Illinois, as of 2016,[42] 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 15, followed by Baltimore at number 19, and Detroit at number 28.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "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
  2. ^ a b c American TV and Social Stereotypes of Americans in Thailand by Kultida Suarchavarat, Texas Tech University, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, September 1988 65: 648-654
  3. ^ a b Students face US stereotypes abroad by Liz Wojnar - The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University, October 21, 2008/
  4. ^ Cultural Stereotypes About Americans University of Tampere, A FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture Reference File Department of Translation Studies, 27 April 2010
  5. ^ eduPASS | Cultural Differences | Stereotypes
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Cultural Stereotypes by Lupita Fabregas - Oklahoma State University, The Newsline, February 2012
  9. ^ America the generous, CNN, By William J. Bennett, December 15, 2011
  10. ^ Crary, David (September 9, 2010). "Study finds Americans in generous mood". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1A. 
  11. ^ American giving
  12. ^ Goldberg, Eleanor (December 19, 2011). "SLIDESHOW: Which Country Is The Most Charitable On Earth?". Huffington Post. 
  13. ^ The Compassionate, Happy, Upbeat American. Brodeur Partners. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  14. ^ The American-Western European Values Gap, 2 Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project
  15. ^ Americans' Optimism About Financial Future by Frank Newport, Gallup Poll
  16. ^ Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy | Pew Global Attitudes Project
  17. ^ Students face US stereotypes abroad by Liz Wojnar - The Wesleyan Argus, Wesleyan University, October 21, 2008/
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ a b c The American-Western European Values Gap, Pew Research Center, Global Attitudes Project
  20. ^ "Why do Americans love their guns?" Al Jazeera
  21. ^ Batman cinema screening shooting: a history of mass shootings in the US since Columbine The Telegraph, 20 Jul 2012
  22. ^ Schütze installierte in seiner Wohnung Sprengstofffallen Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 20-07-2012
  23. ^ Internacional - Polícia americana tenta desarmar explosivos em casa de atirador Jornal do Brasil, 20 de julho de 2012
  24. ^ Fusillade meurtrière à Aurora : «Les tirs partaient sans arrêt» Libération, Monde, 20 juillet 2012
  25. ^ "List of countries by gun ownership", Knowledge Encyclopedia
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ Countries of the World, 2012-2014 estimated population values. World Atlas. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  29. ^ Rob Gillies, Associated Press (December 12, 2011). "Canada formally pulls out of Kyoto Protocol on climate change". StarTribune. Retrieved November 2014.
  30. ^ "China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  31. ^ United Nations Statistics Division, Millennium Development Goals indicators: Carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), thousand metric tonnes of CO2 (collected by CDIAC)
  32. ^ The environmentally unconscious one; or, Why I love America - Viewpoint - The Observer - University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College
  33. ^ CO2 emissions per capita 2010. World Bank. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  34. ^ Clark, Jayne (2006). That 'ugly American' image is getting a makeover guide. USA Today. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  35. ^ The End of Arrogance by Spiegel Staff, Der Spiegel Online International
  36. ^ America, the Arrogant? BY Jonathan Merritt 23 June 2012, Relevant Magazine
  37. ^ Harnden, Toby (April 3, 2009). "President Barack Obama: America has been 'arrogant and dismissive' towards Europe". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ "U.S. Cities Growing Faster Than Suburbs - Real Time Economics - WSJ". The Wall Street Journal. 
  40. ^ Gun Ownership Statistics & Demographics | Statistic Brain
  41. ^ Tavernise, Sabrina; Gebeloff, Robert (March 9, 2013). "Rate of Gun Ownership Is Down, Survey Shows". The New York Times. 
  42. ^ Neighborhood Scout's Most Dangerous Cities - 2016, Top 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S.. Neighborhood Scout. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  43. ^ [1]