Americans generally positive about the value of humanities

Americans generally positive about the value of humanities

Although the humanities are a critical part of American life, very few people engage regularly in the full range of humanistic activities, a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences finds.

Based on a survey of more than five thousand American adults, the report, The Humanities in American Life (108 pages, PDF), investigated American attitudes to and engagement with the humanities and found that while almost 85 percent of respondents had a favorable response to the term "humanities" after it was defined for them, more than half of adults said they believed the humanities attract people who are elitist and pretentious, while 22 percent said the humanities are "not really for people like me." In addition, nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they believe the humanities help people understand people whose lives are different from their own, 86 percent agreed that the humanities strengthen American democracy, and 73 percent agreed that the humanities help make the economy stronger. But while most Americans have a favorable view of the humanities, they are more enthusiastic about science and one of the humanities' component disciplines, history.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the survey also found that while 97 percent of Americans occasionally engage in at least one form of humanistic activity, few people engage in a broad range of such activities and that 40 percent of Americans feel humanistic activities cost too much. Overall, Black Americans are more engaged with the humanities than the general public, due principally to higher rates of religious text study, literary and poetry event attendance, and online sharing of humanities content.

The humanities also play a critical role in education and the workplace, with 81 percent of those surveyed saying they frequently use at least one humanities skill in their job and 29 percent saying their career advancement was at least partially impaired by a deficiency in one or more humanistic skills. In addition, the survey found that college graduates are more likely to have been exposed to the humanities as children than individuals with only a high school education, and that while 53 percent of American adults recall seeing their parents read, only 36 percent recall frequently participating in reading activities with their parents. 

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"Exploring the humanities in American life." American Academy of Arts and Sciences press release 11/09/2020.