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New American Values

American Values

It was an arresting headline: “American Pulls Back from Values That Once Defined It.” It was an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and based on a poll conducted by the WSJ and NORC at the University of Chicago. “Patriotism, religious faith, having children and other priorities that helped define the national character for generations,” it led, “are receding in importance to Americans.”

Consider just two values that would have been deemed core to any American sensibility: patriotism and religion. In 1998, 70% considered patriotism to be very important. Another 62% said the same of religion.

No more.

In the recent polling, only 38% said patriotism was important to them, and only 39% felt that religion mattered. That’s not a decline; that is a free fall.

Those are not the only “traditional” American values in decline. “The share of Americans who say that having children, involvement in their community and hard work are very important has also fallen,” notes the WSJ piece by Aaron Zitner. “Tolerance for others, deemed very important by 80% of Americans as recently as four years ago,” he adds, “has fallen to 58% since then.”

For most of the values, the decline is not hard to reconcile. The rise of the nones, well documented by many, would contribute significantly to the sense of the importance of religion to the typical American.

I would argue that the decline in patriotism is also easily understood. Much like religion, what it means to be “patriotic” has become so ensnared in partisan politics and competing ideologies that few want to wrap themselves up in the flag.

It’s the others that might perplex. Why has having children, being involved in our communities, working hard or exhibiting tolerance—the great cardinal virtue of the last half-century—suddenly fallen out of favor?

A leading theory, and one that I support, is that those particular values are negatively impacted by a rise in individualism. A “me first” mentality that places personal peace and affluence above everything else. As a result, children would be an imposition and financial burden, serving others would take away from serving ourselves, working hard (beyond what it takes to stay employed or advance) takes away from personal time,

… and tolerance?

As the WSJ reports one Millennial owning, it flows from “people focusing on their own racial or cultural backgrounds rather than what Americans have in common.”

So, has any value grown in importance in America?

Only one.

It grew in importance from 31% to 43%.

And I doubt it will be hard for anyone to guess:

… money.

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.