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A description of the different factors that build a true american identity

In a recent study, Barna Group asked adults how much a variety of factors influences their personal identity. What other factors do adults consider central to their identity? Significantly fewer adults would claim their state or their city have much impact on their personal identity.

  • Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984;
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  • Millennials are the generation born between 1984 and 2002; Gen-Xers, between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier;
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Patriotism still runs strong in most Americans: While religious faith squeaks into the top three, there is a sharp drop from the first two factors in the number of Americans who say their faith is a major part of their identity.

About the same proportion of adults give little or no credence to the idea that faith is part of their identity: Most Americans seem to agree with the familiar maxim that what you do is not who you are: Similar percentages point to their ethnic group as shaping their identity: However, more than two out of five—more than for any of the other factors—admit their locale has at least some impact on their personal identity: In other words, geography is not a predominant aspect of self-identity, but it plays a surprisingly important part in the background for most adults.

Generational Identities When it comes to identifying as an American, there is nearly a 50-point drop between the oldest generation—Elders—and the youngest.

What Most Influences the Self-Identity of Americans?

While there is a significant drop between each generation and the next, the sharpest decline is between Boomers and Gen-Xers. But their children—the generation of globalization, MTV, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal—are far less inclined to claim it as a significant factor: Only 37 percent of Gen-Xers say being an American makes up a lot of their personal identity.

Patriotism is not the only institution that has less of an impact on younger generations. Gen-Xers and Millennials are significantly less likely than their older counterparts to claim any of the factors make up a lot of their personal identity. The exception is career: The most dramatic differences, after patriotism, are family and faith. While Millennials, like most adults, identify more with family than any other factor—53 percent say family makes up a lot of their personal identity—they are still well behind any other generation in feeling this way.

This may be the result of more Gen-Xers than Millennials having started families of their own. Identity Politics Age is not the only divide. For each of the factors surveyed, there are significant gaps along religious, socioeconomic, political and even regional lines. When it comes to naming family as a primary influence on personal identity, those more likely than average to do so include Elders, those of various religious faiths, Republicans, those with families of their own married adults, adults with kids under 18Black adults, upscale Americans and residents of the Midwest.

Those less likely to do so include adults with no faith, unregistered and Independent voters, Hispanics, those who have never been married, Millennials and Democrats. Once again, institutionally minded groups such as evangelicals, Elders and married people are more likely to do so, while unregistered voters, registered Independent voters and those with no faith are less likely.

There are few surprises in terms of who highlights religious faith as essential to their identity. Practicing Protestants of all denominations are significantly more likely than the general population to say faith is central to their identity; in fact, aside from practicing Catholics, these groups are all more likely to say their faith, more than any other factor surveyed, makes up a lot of their identity.

Black Americans, Republicans and women are also more likely than average, while Democrats and men are less likely. Similarly, other segments that tend to have higher numbers of ethnic minorities—Catholics, Democrats, practicing Christians and mainline Christians—are more likely to say so.

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  2. Talk about the problem openly in a meeting, and invite the more vocal people to try to speak less often. Millennials are the generation born between 1984 and 2002; Gen-Xers, between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier.
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Downscale and unemployed Americans are also more likely than average to say their personal identity is closely tied to their ethnic identity, while those with mid-range incomes are less likely—further evidence that economic hardships such as unemployment and underemployment disproportionately affect minority communities. Younger generations—Gen-Xers and Millennials—are generally less trusting of institutions than older generations.

This disenfranchisement holds true in their relative reluctance to claim any of these factors as part of their identity. Of course, it will be interesting to see if, as they age, these groups begin to gravitate toward their own institutions and grounding narratives.

The media they consume? While Gen-Xers and Millennials might resist being defined by anything, their identities are certainly impacted and shaped by external forces. Recognizing those forces and the impact they have—for better and worse—on their identity will help young adults make decisions about what and where they want to give allegiance.

This group represents a massive slice of the adult population, and their reticence to claim religious faith as a central part of their identity is in line with their general tendency to distance themselves from institutional forms of Christianity. However, the fact that these Americans claim a Christian faith yet are the second least likely group to say faith makes up a lot of their personal identity, should certainly come as an alarming indicator to Christian leaders.

This is a group that, as a whole, does not appear to be moving closer to the church or to Jesus.

All Research

The estimated maximum sampling error for this study is plus or minus 3. Millennials are the generation born between 1984 and 2002; Gen-Xers, between 1965 and 1983; Boomers, between 1946 and 1964; and Elders, in 1945 or earlier. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent on church attendance, the denominational affiliation of the church attended or self-identification. It is a probability-based online non-volunteer access panel.

Panel members are recruited using a statistically valid sampling method with a published sample frame of residential addresses that covers approximately 97 percent of US households. Sampled non-Internet households, when recruited, are provided a netbook computer and free Internet services so they may participate as online panel members.

KnowledgePanel consists of about 50,000 adult members ages 18 and older and includes persons living in cell-only households. About Barna Group Barna Group which includes its research division, Barna Research Group is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website www.