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Understanding the U.S.A.

Society

Brandywine Community Church

Brandywine Community Church

Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, August 28, 1963.

Americans come in all different colors and nationalities. Americans practice different religions, and live many different lifestyles. Important differences exist between geographical regions, between rural and urban areas, and between social classes. In addition, the presence of millions of immigrants who came to the United States from all corners of the world with their own culture and values adds even more variety and flavor to American life. Although Americans do not always agree with each other, they are united by a very special thing: the values and ideals that were originally described in the U.S. Constitution over 200 years ago.

Probably above everything else, Americans consider themselves individuals. There are strong family ties and strong loyalties to groups, but individuality and individual rights are most important. If this seems like a selfish attitude, it also leads Americans to an honest respect for other individuals and an insistence on human equality.

Related to this respect for individuality are American traits of independence and self- reliance. From an early age, children are taught to "stand on their own two feet," an idiom meaning to be independent. Honesty and frankness are two more aspects of American individuality, and they are more important to Americans than personal honor or "saving face."

Americans place a high value on achievement and this leads them to constantly compete against each other. You will find friendly, and not-so-friendly, competition everywhere. Americans can also be obsessed with records of achievement in sports, in business, or even in more mundane things. On the other hand, even if Americans are often competitive, they also have a good sense of teamwork and of cooperating with others to achieve a specific goal.

Americans are often accused of being materialistic and driven to succeed. How much money a person has, how much profit a business deal makes, or how many material goods an individual accumulates is often their definition of success. This goes back to American competitiveness. Many Americans, however, do not agree with this definition of success; they enjoy life's simple pleasures and are neither overly ambitious nor aggressive. Many Americans are materially successful and still have time to appreciate the cultural, spiritual, and human aspects of life.

Online Reading

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Movement and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Free at Last: The U.S. Civil Rights Movement (published by Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 218KB)

Justice for All: The Legacy of Thurgood Marshall (published by Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.65MB)

Crime & Justice

Crime in the United States (U.S. Department of Justice - Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice)

Diversity & Immigration

The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History & Culture (PDF file, 1.11MB)

Immigrants Joining the Mainstream (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 2.11MB)

Muslim Life in America (published by Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.39MB)

Now That I'm Here: What America's Immigrants Have to Say About Life in the U.S. (a report by Public Agenda)

Portrait of the USA: One from Many (published by Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 71KB)

Family Life & Youth

The American Family (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 474KB)

American Teenagers (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.89MB)

Growing Up Healthy (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.59MB)

Population & Demographics

The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States (CRS Report) (PDF file, 161KB)

Population Profile of the United States (U.S. Census Bureau)

Religion

Americans Struggle with Religion's Role at Home and Abroad (a joint survey by the Pew Forum and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press) (PDF file, 306KB)

A New Religious America (excerpt from the book A NEW RELIGIOUS AMERICA by Diana L. Eck) (PDF file, 149KB)

Portrait of the USA: Separating Church and State (PDF file, 60KB)

Religion on the Stump: Politics and Faith in America (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life) (PDF file, 141KB)

Religious Freedom as a Human Right (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 144KB)

Social Welfare

The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability (The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)

Disability and Ability (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 5.44MB)

Disibility Rights Movement Timeline (Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation)

The Future of Social Security (U.S. Social Security Administration) (PDF file, 883KB)

Volunteerism & Philanthropy

Giving: U.S. Philanthropy (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 3.86MB)

The United States: A Nation of Volunteers (Electronic Journal, Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 865KB)

Volunteering in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor) (PDF file, 146KB)

Women

Making a Difference in the U.S.A.: Women in Politics (published by Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.44MB)

Women of Influence (published by Bureau of International Information Program, U.S. Department of State) (PDF file, 1.61MB)

Internet Links

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