What are American values?
American values are ideas and practices important to people in the United States. Each country has values that help shape how people live in that country and their laws. Individual people have their own values that may be different.
|The information on this page is intended to provide an overview of the values of American society. Not all values and positions are represented on this page. Not all values listed are what each American values most.|
Independence and self-reliance
Americans value their freedom to live their lives with limited intervention and control by the government. This comes from the Declaration of Independence. Various freedoms are also guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, such as the first amendments rights to free speech and the practice of religion.
This sense of independence motivates the importance of self-determination. Americans are very proud of being self-reliant and able to take care of themselves. They tend to think others should be self-reliant as well.
- Americans expect anyone who can work to do so to support themselves.
- American children tend to leave their parent’s homes early. After high school, the majority of children move out to go to college or start working.
- Americans move away easily. It is common for people to move for work and relocate to a new place away from family and friends.
|Many immigrants have come to “the Land of Opportunity” to help their families and to flee war, persecution, poverty, and other restrictions.|
The U.S. Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal.” American equality is based upon this quote. It has influenced the way men and women are treated in the United States. In the USA, all people should receive equal treatment and equal opportunities.
No one should discriminate against you based on:
- Sexual orientation
- In legal situations, everyone should receive equal treatment and have a right to a lawyer.
- In a classroom, teachers should treat all students the same. They shouldn’t favor any student over the other.
- There are equal employment opportunities laws. You should get equal treatment at your work and when applying for a job.
|Even though equal treatment is a right, it is not always the reality. U.S. history has shown the mistreatment of many different groups. Black Americans, LGBTQ+ people, women, indigenous people, minorities, and immigrants have all suffered injustices. |
Know your rights. The fight for equal rights is ongoing. This is seen in recent efforts with the social justice movement in response to police treatment of black Americans.
Individualism allows you to do what you want as long as you don’t affect other people’s rights. Americans should be free to make their own decisions and control their own lives. Americans like to express themselves and don’t feel obligated to agree with others. They want to be seen as unique.
- Children are not expected to do the same work or have the same lifestyle as their parents.
- An American might read this list of values and feel it does not represent their own values. Stating general values for a whole country is complicated.
|There are critics of individualism. Some believe it leads to loneliness and a lack of empathy for the needs of others.|
Americans value privacy and their own space. Many Americans like to have time to themselves away from others. They may be private about certain topics such as their age, salary, or where they live.
- Americans do not usually go to someone else’s house without an invitation or arranging a visit ahead of time.
- Many Americans have fences around their houses to ensure they have privacy. It is expected you walk directly to a front door and not to other parts of their property.
- Bedrooms are usually considered private spaces. Neighbors and friends are entertained in the kitchen, dining room, or living room. Parents and children tend to have separate bedrooms.
- Americans often give each other more space in public situations than people in other cultures. They tend to stand with a bit of space between them, typically the distance of an outstretched arm.
- The government and private companies take strong measures to protect your online, personal, and health information.
Americans value the power of democracy. Democracy is a way of government in which the people vote to decide their leaders and laws. Americans can express their opinions during elections. You must be 18 and, in most states, a U.S. citizen to vote.
- Many Americans use the democratic model in everyday decision-making. It’s common to hear “let’s take a vote” or “majority wins” among friends and coworkers.
- You have the right to express your opinions and protest.
- Americans are encouraged to vote and it is considered a responsibility of U.S. citizens. Although, voting is not mandatory.
The majority of Americans are proud of their country. Many feel patriotic and believe the United States is the best country to live in. Americans appreciate the rights they have. Many take pride in the United States being a strong and influential country.
- At many schools, children will learn and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A verse to show respect and promise support to the United States.
- During most sporting events, the crowd will sing “God Bless America.” This is a song to show patriotism.
- Displaying the American flag is very common in homes and businesses.
|Some Americans have valid criticisms of the United State’s actions both inside the U.S. and abroad. Part of our nationalism is knowing we can do better and have the right to speak up as part of our democracy.|
Work ethic and merit
Americans believe you achieve success and merit through hard work, effort, and talent. Merit is a good quality that makes someone deserve praise. Americans value people that reach their goals without outside influences, such as money or family name.
- A person’s job is an important part of their identity.
- Americans appreciate stories of people who grew up without much and were able to become successful as part of the “American dream.” These stories often include immigrants who have worked hard to reach their goals.
- Being busy with work and activities is often seen as something to be proud of.
- Americans may also “compete” with themselves. They set higher goals after reaching the ones they have set.
|When someone reaches a goal, that is typically seen as the result of their own hard work. This is different than in many other cultures, which are more collective. Collective cultures see accomplishments as a reflection of an entire family or community.|
Americans are often very direct. This means they will tell you what they think and be firm about what they want. Being direct is generally seen as honest and practical. When people use a direct approach in their conversations, they are trying to be clear and precise.
- At work, it is common for employees to receive feedback on how to improve work performance.
- If an American disagrees with your opinion, they might tell you. It does not mean they do not like you. They just have a different idea.
- In the USA, a firm handshake and making eye contact are ways to communicate.
- Being honest when making a commitment to a plan is important. If you can not take someone’s invitation, such as for lunch, it is best to be direct and say you can not go.
|Being direct does not mean being impolite. Read tips to be polite and show good manners in the USA.|
Coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing things is valued in America. Americans like to look ahead, improve things, and be ready for the future. There is a preference for things to be quick and easy. Making things efficient is important.
- Innovators are admired and can receive promotions, government support, and other benefits.
- Products are improved upon all the time. ‘New’ and ‘more efficient’ tags are common.
- The latest version of an item is often sought after.
|Some of the most famous innovators in the USA are immigrants, including Albert Einstein.|
Shopping and buying new things is common in American society. It is a big part of the U.S. economy. Americans frequently get new clothes, electronics, and other items. There are many places to shop in person and online. The majority of Americans have a car and own a home. For some, owning a lot of nice things is a sign of success.
- The use of credit cards and loans is common. Many Americans are in debt to keep up with their lifestyles.
- Sales are popular. Stores offer big discounts at certain times of the year to attract more customers such as Black Friday in November.
- Americans are willing to pay high prices for some items, such as getting the latest smartphone.
|Many Americans experience stress due to debt. Learn how to make a budget and save money.|
American society is often informal and relaxed. There are not a lot of rules and restrictions for correct behavior. There is no formal hierarchy where some people must be treated as more important than others. People with certain jobs, wealth, or education might still be treated with more respect.
Americans usually call each other by their first names. Titles are rarely used, except for doctors, military or police officers, and elected officials. Americans enjoy dressing casually.
- When greeting someone, Americans tend to say, “Hi” or “Hello.” You use the same greeting no matter who you talk to.
- At home, it is common for pets to live inside the house and sleep on the furniture.
- In English, there is only one word for “you” and not multiple words for an informal and formal version.
Time and efficiency
Americans place a lot of value on their time. Some Americans plan out their time carefully, using calendars for their personal and work lives. Americans may feel frustrated if they think someone or something has wasted their time.
The famous saying “time is money” describes how Americans like to use their time “efficiently.” They want to get the most done in the shortest amount of time.
- It is important to be “on time” and be at a place when you said you would be there. You can get in trouble for being late to school or work.
- It is expected that you make an appointment for things like visiting a doctor, teacher, or even a friend. Often being even a little early to an appointment is preferred.
- If someone is going to be late to an invitation, they will call or text to let the person know they are late, even if it’s only a few minutes.
|A work-life balance has become very important for Americans. During and after the pandemic, many employees quit or looked for jobs that allowed them to spend more time with their families, travel, or stay at home. Many companies are changing their policies to retain workers and provide a better work environment.|
Adjusting to American values
Adjusting to a new culture takes time and can be difficult for some people. Here are some tips to help you:
- Be an active listener. By listening, you can understand what others are saying and learn about other people. It is okay to ask people questions to better understand their behaviors.
- Explore the area you live in. Start in your neighborhood, visit the local parks, or go to a local game.
- Talk to people. Many Americans are open. Start conversations, ask questions and make new friends.
- Share who you are. Your background and experiences are valuable. You do not have to change who you are because you move to America.
- Keep an open mind. Don’t isolate yourself, and don’t let ideas and opinions prevent you from building relationships.
- Learn as much as you can about the US. Read about the state and the city you live in.
- Believe in good intentions. Most Americans are not trying to be rude. Remember that each country has different ways of doing this.