Geographies in Depth

These are the real differences between Americans and Europeans

Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Emma Luxton
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When it comes to personal values, there are some big differences between American and Europeans. A survey from Pew Research Center looks at how the views of people in America and some Western European countries compare. The most notable difference is in the views of individualism.

Almost 60% of Americans believe it is more important to have freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference than for the state to guarantee nobody is in need. In European countries, on the other hand, more than half believe it is more important for the state to look after others.

The US is closer to Europe when it comes to attitudes towards the military, with three quarters of Americans believing it is sometimes necessary to use military force to maintain order in the world. This is closely followed by the UK with 70%, although only 50% of Germans agree with this statement.

The majority of Europeans surveyed believe that UN approval should be sought before using military force, while many in the US think this would make action more difficult.

When it comes to isolationism versus engagement, more than half of Americans believe the US should focus on dealing with its own problems rather than helping other countries in need. This was a higher figure than all European nations except France – where 57% veered towards isolationism.

Spaniards were more positive towards engagement with other countries, with 55% believing that helping other countries is more important. The numbers are similar in Germany, with 54% of people thinking we should prioritise helping nations in need.

Americans are most likely to believe their culture is best with almost half agreeing with the statement: “Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others”. This is a big contrast to Britain and France where 63% and 73% respectively disagree with the statement.

Faith is more important in the US than Western Europe. Fifty percent of American respondents believe religion is very important with the Spanish next with just 22%.

Americans are also much more likely to believe that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral, with more than half agreeing. Fewer than one in five agree that it is necessary in Britain, Spain and France.

Americans tend to be identify with their religion before their nationality, with 46% saying they prefer to be known as Christian rather than an American. Only around 1 in 5 Western Europeans identify as Christian over their national identity.

Homosexuality is accepted by the majority of people across all countries surveyed, but Western Europeans are far more supportive than Americans.

Spain is the most accepting European country, with more than 90% of people believing homosexuality should be accepted. Over 80% of people in Germany, France and Britain are supportive of homosexuality. In the US the figure stands at 60%.

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