U.S. Social Structure
ENGP9/A15 U.S. Institutions Survey (Hopkins)
General Population Statistics and Means of Identification
- Population passed 300 million in October 2006 (see www.census.gov for current estimate)
- The population is continually growing, due to immigration and high
birth rates; it is projected to reach 400 million by 2050. There is a net
gain of one person every 13 seconds; the population increased by 105
million (more than the populations of France, Germany or Italy) from 1970
to 2010. There is a low national population density, with vast amounts of
open space to accommodate the increasing population
- The population has an overall youth-orientation (while also a
rapidly-growing 'senior' sector) and great racial, ethnic and other
diversity, with a constant stimulus of new ideas from the interplay of
different backgrounds. This is seen as a national strength.
- An official census is taken every 10 years at beginning of decade,
and is updated via the ongoing American Community Survey;
however, there is no national "civil register" or enforceable requirement
to supply census or other demographic information.
- Some see the census itself as being controversial; see the January
2010 Pew Report on
Census Attitudes (also in PDF
- The 2010 census form was the shortest ever see the 2010 Form [PDF] and 2000 Census Long Form [PDF] for types of
- Personal identification: a birth
certificate or state driver's license
[Missouri, PDF] (also for non-operators),
new 2006 voter ID requirement [Missouri
example] (cf. other forms of "motor voter" legislation), general
requirement to show "2 forms of ID" no virkatodistus,
Finnish-U.S. differences with SSNs, residential registration, etc.
National Identity and Shared Values: Unity vs Diversity
- The U.S. has always been highly pluralistic, with great ethnic and
racial diversity. What have been the unifying factors, and how might they
be changing? Is this symbolized by a shift in cultural metaphors from
'melting pot' to 'mosaic' and 'salad bowl'? Have the late 20th and early
21st centuries witnessed a loss of national identity and increasing social
fragmentation (see One Nation of
- Traditional unifying factors have included the American English
language, high mobility via excellent physical and media communications,
and an implicit belief in the "American
Creed" and "American Dream."
- Part of the Creed and Dream are a sense of national destiny,
opportunity, responsibility and 'equality', derived from colonial New
England Puritanism (see The American Way of
Equality), a sense of shared goals and community involvement and,
until the late 1960s, a standard educational 'canon'.
- Since the 1960s, the population has been changing from its
traditional dominance by white European-based ethnicity and values toward
greater cultural assertiveness by Black Americans and rapidly emerging
pluralities of Hispanic and Asian Americans, especially in regions which
have had significant increases in Hispanic and Asian immigration.
- This has coincided with rapidly-expanding mass media choices,
resulting in "media individualism" (cf. Saturday Evening Post and Norman Rockwell vs '10-Speed Bicycle
Camping'). 'Media individualism' both reflects and stimulates larger
sociocultural 'individualisms' (vs. past senses of social cohesion).
- In the 1960s, new multicultural values emerged (cf. Ronald Takaki and
A Different Mirror) which accelerated
the growth of 'individualism' and 'diversity' in ways that have been
politically controversial (cf. Richard Lamm on
Multiculturalism, for example). The concept of multiculturalism has
been one of the main influences for change in the traditional educational
'canon' (cf. Harold Bloom's
- Post-1970s affirmative action
policies also challenged
traditional U.S. cultural unities. While affirmative action policies
overall have been considered successful (see
always controversial. Among the challenges to affirmative action (in the
education field alone)
were claims of "reverse discrimination" cf. DeFunis (see also Wikipedia,
Regents of the Univ. of California vs. Bakke, Hopwood v. Texas,
- Nonetheless, there is still a high sense of community involvement
in American society, especially locally, with neighborhood associations,
'welcome wagon' services for new residents, relatively close relationships
among neighbors (taking food to new families moving in, or when there has
been a death in the family, etc.), voluntary work with church and civic
projects, and many similar practices.
Recent Demographic Trends
- Urbanization (1920 onwards) - Suburbanization - Exurbanization - etc.
- Overwhelming majority of jobs white collar, service-oriented, mobile
- Growing social abstraction with combination of urbanization, high
physical mobility, expansion of individualized media and communications
options, lessening of 'community' orientation, etc.
- Changes in certain public attitudes (tax payments, respect for
government, etc.) from 'participatory' to 'adversarial'
- Still, strong sense of national optimism, willingness toward voluntary
participation in 'meaningful ventures', etc. though often directed
more toward individual movements within the nation than toward unified
Concepts of Class in America
- No traditional European sense of class division or 'working class'
- Competition-based social and economic identification, where one may
rise or fall (cf. 'individualism' of Turner's
Frontier Theory plus American Creed & Dream)
- Strong mass identification with the "middle class" and "middle class
values", although often qualified as "lower middle class" or "upper middle
- Associations of wealth, education, profession, race and class
- "Lower class" more likely to be black vs white, rural vs urban,
'inner-city' vs suburban, high school or dropout vs college-educated,
unemployed or part-time workers vs full-time employed cf. 'digital
divide', the 'invisible poor', 'Culture of Poverty' etc.
- "Upper-class" markers: WASP
stereotype, continuity over time vs
wealth alone, New England 'blue bloods' & Mayflower, Boston
'Brahmin' dialect, Ivy League education, activity in arts, culture, public
service, family names (Astor, Cabot, Lodge, etc.).
Terminology Notes Index
US-2 Reference Index
Last Updated 12 March 2013