Should we be alarmed by the evolution of American values?

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A recent NBC News / Wall Street Journal poll on American values ​​also compares the responses with those given in response to the same questions asked in a 1998 poll. The results were certainly spectacular enough to raise questions about the future of our country. .

Polls and surveys are affected by all kinds of external forces, including bias that is unexpected, hidden, or otherwise not “fixable” by statisticians. Modern pollsters, at least the best of them, strive to anticipate bias and avoid or counter it, using repetition of rephrased questions and other techniques.

There are certain biases in our tech world, although they have developed resistance to investigative techniques and probably affect the reliability of even the best surveys conducted by the most careful professionals. The 2016 presidential election campaign polls that predicted a Hillary Clinton landslide, for example, were not conducted by inexperienced amateurs. And yet some kind of bias has passed and infected the results.

We need to keep this issue in mind as we look at the results of this excellent NBC / Wall Street Journal survey and consider the trends to be probably more reliable than the absolute numbers themselves. But even taking this caution into account, the numbers, and especially the trends, are surprising.

The survey results paint a picture of America as a country undergoing significant and rapid change. And the sum of these changes is a partial answer to a question many of us have asked ourselves: why don’t we seem able to get along with each other? This is, in part, because we are undergoing rapid changes in our core beliefs, the anchor points of mutual understanding.

An investigation result is not surprising. Only 50 percent of Americans say religion is important to them, down 12 percentage points from 1998, when the same questions were asked.

This decline follows physical evidence. More and more churches are being closed and, in many cases, sold or rented for non-religious activities. What this means for the future of our country and the role of religious values, however, is not so clear. Ironically, as God plays a smaller and smaller role in the lives of Americans, references to divinity have multiplied in our spoken and written language. “Oh my God!” has become a coat-hanger phrase and is used so frequently that its unexplained abbreviation, OMG, often replaces it in written journalism, where space is expensive and conserved.

The results of the survey on having children are quite clear, as are its implications for our future. The number of people who place a high value on having children is 43%, down 16 percentage points since 1998.

This trend will have a direct impact on our personal life and prosperity. Its effects on the total population will limit our potential economic growth, just like in Japan, Russia and Western Europe.

The survey also attempts to measure changes in patriotism as an important value in people’s lives. Compared to religion or child rearing, however, patriotism is a more difficult concept to measure because the word itself is largely self-defined.

That said, 61% of Americans consider patriotism an important part of their life. That’s a lot of people, but it should be noted that it is down 9 percent since 1998. The importance of the trend becomes clear when the survey results are broken down by age group. Among Americans 55 and older, almost 80% said patriotism was very important to them. In the 18-36 age group, however, only 42 percent felt the same. And the future belongs to young people.

The survey contains good news. Most of us still strongly believe in the value of hard work. Yet two-thirds of Americans are not convinced that the next generation will be better off economically. The relationship between these two things is certainly worth exploring further.

This is essentially the same characteristic of the “yield curve” that has recently been in the news and is on the list of concerns in financial markets. Essentially, the yield curve had the same message as the survey: the economy is doing well, but the future economy is worrying.

The survey results raise two questions that we need to think about. The first is: if traditional values ​​decline, which values ​​take their place? The second is: are these changing values ​​a problem that we can do something about… and should we do it?

The next elections in 2020 may provide some answers to these questions, but we should not count on them. Ultimately, it will be “We the people” who will address the issue of values ​​in our own lives, in our own way.


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