【#1】Material Là Gì, Nghĩa Của Từ Material

( Xem từ này trên từ điển Anh Việt)

the substance or substances of which a thing is made or composed

anything that serves as crude or raw matter to be used or developed

any constituent element.

a textile fabric

a group of ideas, facts, data, etc., that may provide the basis for or be incorporated into some integrated work

materials, the articles or apparatus needed to make or do something

a person considered as having qualities suited to a particular sphere of activity

formed or consisting of matter; physical; corporeal

relating to, concerned with, or involving matter

pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual or intellectual aspect of things

pertaining to or characterized by an undue interest in corporeal things; unspiritual.

of substantial import; of much consequence; important

pertinent or essential (usually fol. by to )

Law . likely to influence the determination of a case

Philosophy . of or pertaining to matter as distinguished from form.

actual , animal , appciable , carnal , concrete , corporeal , earthly , fleshly , incarnate , nonspiritual , objective , palpable , perceptible , phenomenal , physical , real , sensible , sensual , substantial , true , worldlynotes:germane and relevant indicate pertinence to a matter , but may not be essential; material means pertinent and necessarymaterial is based on latin materialis ‘formed of matter’; materiel means ‘personnel’ or ‘military arms or equipment’ , ad rem , applicable , applicative , apposite , apropos , big , cardinal , consequential , considerable , essential , fundamental , germane , grave , indispensable , intrinsic , key , meaningful , momentous , pertinent , pointful , primary , serious , significant , vital , weightynotes:germane and relevant indicate pertinence to a matter , tangible , historic , large , monumental , banausic , bodily , bourgeois , faustian , important , materialistic , mechanical , philistine , ponderable , pragmatic , relevant , utilitarian

being , body , bolt , cloth , component , constituent , crop , element , entity , equipment , gear , goods , habiliments , inpidual , ingredient , machinery , materiel , object , outfit , paraphernalia , staple , stock , stuff , substance , supply , tackle , textile , thingnotes:germane and relevant indicate pertinence to a matter , but may not be essential; material means pertinent and necessarymaterial is based on latin materialis ‘formed of matter’; materiel means ‘personnel’ or ‘military arms or equipment’ , data , evidence , facts , information , notes , reading , text , worknotes:germane and relevant indicate pertinence to a matter , matter , accouterment , apparatus , rig , thing , turnout , armamentarium , composite , corporeality , corporeity , fabric , linen , materiality , materialization , metal , physicality , plasma , reification , substantiality , tangibility , things , tool

【#2】Validating The Material Values Scale For Children (Mvs

Abstract

This study aims to validate the Material Values Scale for children (MVS-c) by Ope et al. ( Personality and Inpidual Differences, 51(8), 963-968, 2011) among children in early childhood. The MVS-c was originally developed to assess materialism among children between the ages of eight to eleven, and consists of three subscales measuring material centrality, material happiness, and material success. We administered the MVS-c to a sample of 120 elementary school children between the ages of six to eight. The MVS-c was psented orally in a structured interview and with the aid of visual response options. We examined the factorial structure, reliability, and construct validity of the full-length 18-item scale as well as the shorter 6- and 3-item versions. Analyses using structural equation modeling showed that its factorial structure (i.e., with material centrality, material happiness and material success as first-order factors and overall material values as a second order factor) holds for younger children. Though the 3-item MVS-c cannot be used among six- to eight-year-olds, the 18-item MVS-c and the shorter 6-item version proved to be both reliable and valid in this age group. Hence, the MVS-c can be used to assess young children’s materialism, to examine differences in materialism across developmental phases, and to study developments in children’s materialism over time.

Introduction

Chaplin and John ( 2007) have taken the first step in finding an age-appropriate instrument by using collages to measure materialism among children in early childhood. Although this method proved to be successful in their study, collage construction might not be the most time-efficient way to measure materialism in children. Using time-efficient measurement tools is particularly important when doing research with young children because of their limited attention span (Borgers et al. 2000). Using time-efficient measurements allows researchers to include additional constructs in their study. Another weakness of the collage measurement is that it is difficult to compare to other measures of materialism, because it does not account for the different dimensions of the construct, whereas other measures of materialism do.

Up until now a valid measurement scale to examine materialism in young children has been missing. Although several measurement scales were developed to measure the construct among older children and adolescents (e.g., Bottomley et al. 2010; Kasser 2005; Ope et al. 2011), none of them were properly tested for use among children in early childhood. Ope et al. ( 2011) developed the Material Values Scale for children (MVS-c) that measures the three dimensions of materialism suggested by Richins and Dawson ( 1992) (i.e., material centrality, material happiness, and material success). The MVS-c has, however, only been validated among children between eight and eleven years old. Subsequently, the current study aims to take the next step by validating this scale among children in early childhood.

The MVS-c

The Material Values Scale for children (MVS-c) was developed by Ope and colleagues in 2011. The scale was based on Richins and Dawson’s ( 1992) Material Values Scale (MVS) which measures materialism among adults by means of three subscales. According to Richins and Dawson ( 1992) materialistic values encompass three different dimensions: the centrality of possessions and their acquisition in a person’s life (i.e., material centrality), the belief that possessions and their acquisition are essential to one’s happiness and life satisfaction (i.e., material happiness), and the use of possessions in judging the success of others and oneself (i.e., material success). Hence, the MVS treats materialism as a second-order construct and material centrality, material happiness, and material success as underlying first-order constructs.

Likewise, the MVS-c (Ope et al. 2011) aims to measure materialism among children through material centrality, material happiness, and material success. Just as the original MVS, the scale consists of three subscales including six items each. The original 18 MVS items were adjusted to make them more appropriate for use among children. All items of the MVS-c were formulated in a clear language and address types of possessions that are relevant in children’s lives (Ope et al. 2011). Furthermore, the number of response options was reduced from five to four, because neutral response options need to be avoided in research among children; children have difficulty distinguishing a difference in meaning between options when six or more are used (Borgers et al. 2004). The MVS-c was proven valid and reliable in measuring materialism among eight- to eleven-year-olds.

The original MVS-c authors also tested two shorter versions of the scale. Because children in this age group still have a short attention span and quickly loose interest (Borgers et al. 2000), shorter measurement scales are usually pferred. A 6-item version and a 3-item version of the MVS-c were created, which assessed the three dimensions of materialism with two indicators and one indicator for each dimension, respectively. The shorter versions of the MVS-c performed just as well as the full-length scale in terms of reliability and validity (Ope et al. 2011).

Adapting the MVS-c to Younger Children

To be able to use the MVS-c to measure materialism among a younger age group, such as children in early childhood (ages 6 to 8), some adaptions had to be made first. To start, the mode of administration had to be changed. Among older children or adolescents, the MVS-c can be employed as a self-administered questionnaire. However, because children under eight are limited in their language development (Borgers et al. 2000), self-administered questionnaires are not suited for this age group. Due to the low or even lacking reading skills of children in early childhood, it is required to read the questions out loud to the children. This means that the MVS-c had to be administered orally. Because young children are very suggestible and often reluctant to expss their own thoughts or feelings in surveys (Borgers et al. 2000), the MVS-c needs to be administrated to children inpidually in order to pvent them from being influenced by their peers or feeling uncomfortable when answering the questions. Hence, the pferred way to administrate the MVS-c to children in early childhood is in an inpidual structured interview.

Not only the mode of administrating the questions needed to be changed, the same was true for the response options. Because children under eight still have limited verbal memory (Borgers et al. 2000), it is difficult for them to retrieve response options if they are psented orally. To avoid this issue, cards with visual repsentations of the response options can be used (Greig et al. 2007). For the MVS-c, we replaced the verbal response options of the scale by visual response options with verbal labels. The response options (1) “no, not at all,” (2) “no, not really,” (3) “yes, a little,” and (4) “yes, very much” were repsented by (1) a very unhappy smiley, (2) a slightly unhappy smiley, (3) a slightly happy smiley and (4) a very happy smiley. So-called smiley scales have been used to measure children’s attitudes in many different contexts. The use of smiley scales has been validated by Reynolds-Keefer et al. ( 2009), who found that there is no difference in variability in scores between children in early childhood who have been psented with verbal response options (yes/no) and children who were psented with a pictorial Likert scale.

Validating the MVS-c

The psent study aims to validate the MVS-c among children between six and eight years of age. For this purpose the factorial structure of the scale will be tested first. Following Richins and Dawson’s ( 1992) seminal conceptualization of materialism as a three-dimensional concept (see also Ope et al. 2011), a second-order structure with overall materialism as second-order construct and material centrality, material happiness, and material success as first-order factors is psumed (see Fig. 1). After this, scales will be created for the three dimensions as well as the 6-item and 3-item short scale. The scales will be subjected to reliability tests, and used to assess the construct validity of the MVS-c among this age group. Reliability assesses whether children’s responses across the items are consistent and can be tested by calculating Cronbach’s alpha (Kline 2008). Construct validity refers to whether the scale measures what it was designed to measure (Kline 2008; Noar 2003) and can be assessed by examining to what extent the MVS-c correlates with other measures of the same construct and variables known to be related to the construct (Noar 2003).

Second-order factor model of the 18-item MVS-c with material centrality, material happiness, and material success as first-order factors. All factor loadings are standardized

Method

Sample

Two elementary schools in the western part of the Netherlands cooperated in the study and a total of 125 of their pupils participated in the study. Prior to the study, all parents of children in the third and fourth grade (equivalent to first and second grade in the American school system) received an informed consent letter. The letter provided detailed information about the study and its procedure and enabled parents to withdraw their permission if they did not want their child to participate. The study was granted IRB-approval by the university’s ethical committee. To make sure that only children with valid scores on the main variable of interest (i.e., on the MVS-c) were included in the sample, five children who had missing values on the MVS-c were removed from the sample. The final sample consisted of 57 boys (27 3rd-graders, 30 4th-graders) and 63 girls (31 3rd-graders, 32 4th-graders) in the ages of six to eight ( M = 6.99, SD = .82).

Procedure

A female interviewer guided the children throughout the study. She first explained the collage construction task and supervised the child in the construction process. Then, in the structured interview, all questions and response options of the MVS-c and other measures were read out loud and visual repsentations of the response options were provided whenever children had to choose from a response scale (Greig et al. 2007). The collage was constructed first in order to avoid priming effects. Had the children answered the questions of the MVS-c scale first, this could have primed thoughts about possessions and consumption and, ultimately, result in children picking more material goods to include in their collage than they would have otherwise. The children with parental permission and who also wanted to participate in the study themselves, were picked up from the classroom and accompanied to another room. The room where the study took place was quiet and somewhat smaller than a classroom. In the room, there was a table where the child and the interviewer could sit opposite to each other. On a second table, the collage board and materials were laid out. After the researcher introduced herself, the children were told that they were going to complete a small task that had to do with the magnetic board and that they had to answer a couple of questions. It was emphasized by the researcher that the children could say anything they wanted during the interview, that there were no wrong answers, and that their responses would not be disclosed to other children or people. Also, children were informed that they could stop participating at any time.

To familiarize the children with the setting and make them feel at ease, the interviewer first asked a series of simple questions regarding the child’s gender, age, and grade level. After this, the child was instructed to construct a collage of items that made him or her happy, using the provided materials. Children could take as long as they needed for this task. The study continued with a number of questions about television viewing, asking parents for products seen on TV, children’s material values, and their life satisfaction. Lastly, the children indicated if they enjoyed participating in the study and whether they thought participating was easy difficult. Afterwards the children were thanked and accompanied to their classroom. The whole procedure took about 15 to 20 min per child.

Measures

MVS-c

The Material Values Scale for children by Ope et al. ( 2011) consisted of 18 items. The dimensions material centrality, material happiness, and material success were each measured with six questions (e.g., “Do you think it is important to own expensive things?”, for the full list of items see Ope et al. 2011). Children had to choose from the following response options: (1) “no, not at all,” (2) “no, not really,” (3) “yes, a little,” and (4) “yes, very much.” The visual repsentations of the response options consisted of (1) a very unhappy smiley, (2) a slightly unhappy smiley, (3) a slightly happy smiley, and (4) a very happy smiley. The scores on the 18-item, 6-item, and 3-item MVS-c were computed by calculating the mean score of the corresponding items. The descriptive statistics as well as the reliability coefficients of all three versions of the scale are displayed in part A of Table 1.

Table 1 Descriptive statistics, reliability, and construct validity of the 18-, 6-, and 3-item MVS-c

Materialism Collage

Following Chaplin and John ( 2007), children were asked to construct a collage about what makes them happy. This method originates from a study by Chaplin and John ( 2005) into self-brand connections among children between eight and eighteen years old. Later, it was used again by Chaplin in a study into consumption constellations (Chaplin and Lowrey 2010), but this time with younger children as well (i.e., first graders). Because the method proved to be appropriate for measuring materialism in middle childhood as well as similar constructs in early childhood, it was used as a proxy to measure materialism among six- to-eight-year-olds in this study.

Just as in Chaplin and John’s ( 2007) study, children were provided with a set of items from which they could make a selection to compose their personal collage. The whole set included 40 items that were repsented by 40 laminated cards which were laid out on a table. Children could incorporate the items into their collage by placing them on a magnetic board in front of them. The children were instructed to select those 10 cards that made them the most happy. The cards were organized in five rows of eight cards, and the cards in each row were related to one theme: There were two rows with material goods, one row with hobbies, one row with people and one row with sports (see Fig. 2). These categories correspond to those used by Chaplin and John ( 2007). The order of the rows was rotated between children to pvent order effects.

Setup of collage board and item cards

The collage items were carefully selected to ensure that they covered the most important aspects of children’s lives (see Fig. 3). The material items were mostly adopted from Chaplin and John ( 2007). However, some of the original material items, such as a gift certificate and a new purse, were replaced by items depicting technological goods that are currently used by children, such as tablets and game consoles. The category “people” included people who are closest to young children, such as their parents, siblings, teachers, and classmates. Dutch children’s most common hobbies and sports were selected for the final two categories (Gemeente Amsterdam, Bureau Onderzoek en Statistiek 2013; Gemeente Haarlemmermeer, Team Onderzoek 2012; Veldacademie 2013). The category “hobbies” included items such as gaming, reading, and drawing. Soccer, tennis, and horse riding are examples of items in the category “sports.” Blank cards were available as well, in case children wanted to include something in their collage that was not repsented by one of the 40 items. After children had finished their collage, a photograph was taken of the collage. Based on these photographs, the number of material items each child had selected was determined and a sum score was computed ( M = 5.52, SD = 1.78).

Photograph of the 40 item cards

Gender

As boys and girls are expected to have different levels of materialism, gender was used as a measure to validate the MVS-c. In the analyses, gender was included as a dichotomous variable. Boys were repsented by a score of 0 and girls were repsented by a score of 1.

Advertising Exposure

Requests for Products from TV

Life Satisfaction

Children’s life satisfaction was measured with a single item of the life satisfaction scale used by Buijzen and Valkenburg ( 2003b) and Ope et al. ( 2011). The selected item asked children to indicate their overall happiness (i.e., “How happy are you in general?”). The response options corresponding to this question were (1) “not so happy,” (2) “a little happy,” (3) “happy,” and (4) “very happy” ( M = 3.60, SD = .63).

Results

Multi-Factor Modeling

Structural equation modeling was used to test the factorial structure of the MVS-c among six- to eight-year-olds. The models were estimated with maximum likelihood estimation in AMOS 21. Maximum likelihood estimation requires multivariate normality (Kline 2011). This assumption was tested in two steps. First, since univariate normality is a pcondition for multivariate normality (Kline 2011), we inspected the skewness and kurtosis of each indicator of the MVS-c. Univariate normality is indicated by skewness scores between −2 and +2 and kurtosis scores between −7 and +7 (Kim 2013). Inspecting the univariate distributions of the indicators of the MVS-c revealed only small deviations from normality. Skewness ranged from −.58 to 1.02, and kurtosis ranged from −1.23 to .42. Thus, normality of the univariate distributions could be assumed. Second, we inspected Mardia’s normalized estimate of multivariate kurtosis. Multivariate normality can be assumed when Mardia’s coefficient lies below 5.00 (Byrne 2010). Mardia’s coefficient was 4.46 and thus below the critical threshold.

Model fit was evaluated using the normed Chi-square (i.e., χ2 pided by degrees of freedom), the Comparative Fit Index (CFI), and the Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) and its p-close. A normed Chi-square value below 2.00 is generally considered to be indicative of a good model fit (Hooper et al. 2008). CFI values larger than .95 and RMSEA values smaller than .05 with a non-significant p-close indicate good model fit (Byrne 2010). CFI values between .90 and .95 and RMSEA values between .05 and .08 are considered acceptable too (Byrne 2010).

Similar to the analyses of Ope et al. ( 2011), shared measurement error was controlled for by allowing error terms for items with a similar subject to correlate (e.g., “Do you think it’s important to own a lot of money?” and “Does having a lot of money make you happy?”). In order to identify the models, the factor loading of the first indicator of each subscale was fixed to 1. In addition, the variance of the second-order factor material values was fixed to 1 in the higher-order model (Kline 2011).

The oblique factor model, which included the 18 items of the MVS-c as manifest indicators and material centrality, material happiness, and material success as first-order latent factors was tested first. The model had an acceptable fit: χ2 (130, n = 120) = 171.84, p < .01; χ2/df = 1.32; CFI = .92; RMSEA = .05, p-close = .42. All items turned out to have a significant, positive factor loading on their designated factor ( p < .001), except for the sixth item for material happiness. This suggests that the three first-order factors are well defined (Gignac 2007). The nested model also resulted in an acceptable fit: χ2 (115, n = 120) = 151.59, p < .05; χ2/df = 1.32; CFI = .93; RMSEA = .05, p-close = .44. When ignoring non-significant factor loadings, all items appeared to have unidirectional loadings on their designated factor. More importantly, all items, except for the sixth item of material happiness, showed a significant and positive factor loading on the general material values factor ( p < .01). This reveals that all items can be used as indicators for overall materialism.

Lastly, the higher-order model in Fig. 1 was tested to verify the second-order structure of material values among children from six to eight years old. A second-order latent factor was added for overall material values, which enabled us to determine the factor loadings of the first-order factors on general material values. The model fit of the second-order model was identical to the fit of the oblique model ( χ2 (130, n = 120) = 171.84, p < .01; χ2/df = 1.32; CFI = .92; RMSEA = .05, p-close = .42), as the models are equivalent. The first-order factors all had high, positive loadings on the second-order factor ( β centrality = .87, β happiness = .92, β success = .78, p < .001). This indicates that the factorial structure among this sample is similar to that of the original MVS-c among 8- to 11-year-olds and it corroborates the idea that material values in children are composed of material centrality, material happiness, and material success.

We followed the conventional style of reporting on model fit and – in addition to the normed Chi-square, the CFI, RMSEA, and p-close – also provided the results of the three models’ chi-square significance tests. Non-significant chi-square tests are an indication of acceptable fit. If a chi-square test is significant, however, the model’s correlation residuals (i.e., the difference between the sample correlations and the model-implied correlations) or standardized covariance residuals should be inspected to assess whether substantial misspecifications occurred. “Too many” large residuals are indicative of misspecifications (Kline 2011). The standardized residual covariances provided by AMOS 23 can be interpted as z-values (see Kline 2011, p. 171): Values below −1.96 and values over 1.96 are regarded as significant/large. In each model, only one out of 153 standardized residual covariances was substantial (with a value of −2.022 in the oblique and the second-order factor model, and a value of 1.982 in the orthogonal model). Because the majority of the fit measures indicated that the fit of the models was acceptable and because the analysis of the residual covariances showed that there were no major misspecifications, no model modifications were initiated.

Reliability

Part of validating the MVS-c among six- to eight-year-olds was testing the reliability of the scale among this age group. Reliability of the MVS-c was assessed by means of Cronbach’s alpha and reliability coefficients were interpted according to DeVellis’ ( 2003) guidelines. The reliability coefficients of the 18-, 6-, and 3-item MVS-c are displayed in part B of Table 1. The full 18-item scale yielded very good reliability ( α = .85). The shorter 6- and 3-item version demonstrated lower reliability coefficients. The reliability of the 6-item scale was just acceptable ( α = .61), however, the reliability of the 3-item scale was unacceptable (i.e., <.60; α = .49) (DeVellis 2003). In sum, except for the 3-item scale, the scales had adequate reliability, reflecting sufficient internal consistency within the different versions of the MVS-c among six- to eight-year-olds.

Construct Validity

Discussion

The aim of this study was to validate the Material Values Scale for children by Ope et al. ( 2011) among a younger age group. To do so, the scale was administered to 125 children between six and eight years old in a structured interview. The psumed second-order structure of the scale was tested with structural equation modeling and the reliability and validity of the scale and its shorter versions were examined. The results showed that the factorial structure of the MVS-c is confirmed for children from six to eight years old. Moreover, it was found that the MVS-c can be used to measure the material values of six- to eight-year-olds in a time-efficient manner.

An important finding of this study is that children’s material values are indeed a second-order construct with material centrality, material happiness, and material success as underlying constructs. In contrast to John’s ( 1999) theory this demonstrates that, even at the age of six, children’s material values are well-evolved. According to John ( 1999), the material values of children at this age are only based on a perceptual dimension and get more nuanced during elementary school. Our study, however, showed that material possessions do not only take a central place in young children’s lives, but are also associated with happiness and success. Young children’s ability to draw these associations is in line with the finding of Chan ( 2003) that they already have an understanding of the value of possessions based on social significance, and with pvious research which has shown that children begin to make inferences about people based on the products they use when they are between six and eight years old (Belk et al. 1982; Mayer and Belk 1982).

Another important finding is that not all three versions of the MVS-c appeared to be suitable for the use among younger children. The results regarding the reliability of the scale demonstrate that the 18-item scale and the 6-item scale are reliable and therefore appropriate for use among children in early childhood. The 3-item scale, in contrast, had a very low reliability (i.e., α < .60; see DeVellis 2003), which makes it inappropriate to use. The fact that the 6-item version of the scale did prove to be useful among this age group, means that materialism in young children can now be measured much more time-efficiently than by means of a collage task. The 6-item MVS-c might be of great use in further research into the causes and consequences of childhood materialism.

This study found only partial support for construct validity of the MVS-c among a younger age group. Construct validity of the scale was established through the correlation between children’s MVS-c score and their score on the collage measure for materialism, which was the most important validation measure. The correlation between the MVS-c and the materialism collage was also not as strong as expected. This finding may be attributed to the fact that, contrary to the scale, the collage measure is unable to capture all three dimensions of materialism. In fact, in the collage task, the children were instructed to select those items that made them most happy (with most referring to importance and thus material centrality, and happy to material happiness). Material success (i.e., the degree to which children assess the success of others in terms of possessions) is less likely to be assessed with the collage measure, because it is not referred to in the instruction. Accordingly, we found that the collage measure of materialism was significantly associated with material centrality and material happiness, but not with material success. This may have attenuated the correlation between the collage measure and the MVS-c. That being said, approaching .30, the correlation of .27 can be still considered moderate according to Cohen’s ( 1988) conventions. Irrespective, because establishing a scale’s validity is a cumulative endeavor, future studies could further investigate the validity of the MVS-c among younger children by assessing how the scale is associated to related concepts, such as narcissism and entitlement.

When it comes to life satisfaction, there may be a third explanation for not finding a correlation to the MVS-c. Research has shown that low life satisfaction can lead to higher levels of materialism but that being more materialistic does not decrease life satisfaction in children (Ope et al. 2012). It is thought that children who are dissatisfied with their lives may seek happiness and fulfillment in material possessions. However, a strong ceiling effect for life satisfaction was found in this study, indicating that the participating children were all very happy and satisfied with their life. Therefore, they may not need materialism as a coping mechanism.

By validating the MVS-c among six- to eight-year-olds the current study contributes to our knowledge in this area of research in three ways. Firstly, with the 18-item MVS-c and its 6-item shorter version there now is an appropriate and time-efficient way to measure materialism among children younger than eight years old. Secondly, we are now able to compare children’s material values among different age groups. The MVS-c, which was originally developed for children between eight and eleven years old, has now also been validated for the use among six- to eight-year-olds. Lastly, because the MVS-c can be used among six- to eleven-year-old children, the development of children’s material values can be studied over a longer period of time. This will provide new insights into the causes and consequences of materialism across the life span.

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Affiliations

  1. Communication Analytics, Johan van Hasseltweg 39A, 1021, KN, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Heleen van der Meulen

  2. Department of Communication Science, University of Amsterdam, P.O. Box 15791, 1001, NG, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    Rinaldo Kühne

  3. Department of Media and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1738, 3000, DR, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

    Suzanna J. Ope

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Correspondence to Suzanna J. Ope.

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【#3】Six Basic American Cultural Values

This description of American cultural values, the six basic American cultural values, was first introduced in American Ways: An Introduction to American Culture. It explains the value system that has allowed the United States to assimilate millions of people from perse cultures all over the world and create a unique, enduring American identity. There are three pairs of values consisting of three reasons why immigrants have come (and still do) to the United States and three prices that are paid for these benefits.

  • Inpidual Freedom and Self-Reliance
  • Equality of Opportunity and Competition
  • The American Dream and Hard Work

The first is for Inpidual Freedom and the price for that is Self-Reliance. We cannot be truly free if we cannot take care of ourselves and be independent. The second is for Equality of Opportunity, and the price for that is Competition. If everyone has an equal chance for success, then we have to compete. The third is for The American Dream, the opportunity for a better life and a higher standard of living. The price for the American Dream has traditionally been Hard Work.

The relationship among these values-the rights and the responsibilities-creates the fabric of the American society. It is this fabric that defines the American Dream-the belief that if people take responsibility for their lives and work hard, they will have the inpidual freedom to pursue their personal goals and a good opportunity to compete for success.

It is important to note that these six values are values and not values, or even personal ones. They are the foundation of our democratic nation. Rooted in the beliefs and visions of our Founding Fathers and reinforced by historical experience, these cultural values are what distinguishes our country from all others. They are what make us “Americans.”

History Of The Six Basic American Values

Traditional American Values and Beliefs

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

One of the most intriguing questions about the United States is what makes people “American”? With immigrants arriving from all over the world with vastly different cultural traditions, values, and customs, what holds the country together?

And how did a nation of such persity produce a recognizable national identity?

John Zogby, an American pollster who surveys public opinion, says that what holds the United States together today is that “we all share a common set of values that make us American. . . . We are defined by the rights we have. . . . Our rights are our history, why the first European settlers came here and why millions more have come here since.”

The system of basic American values emerged in the late 1700s and began to define the American character in a nation that has always consisted of people from many different countries. By the time the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he was able to see these American values in action.

Almost 200 years later, his book Democracy in America is still cited as one of the most insightful and definitive descriptions of American values.

Historically, the United States has been viewed as “the land of opportunity,” a place where immigrants could have inpidual freedom, an equal chance for success, and the ability to have a better standard of living. In order to have these benefits, however, they had to take care of themselves, compete with others, and work hard to fashion a new life. In time, their experiences led to the development of the core American cultural values that still shape America today.

This system of values consists of three pairs of benefits-inpidual freedom, equality of opportunity and material wealth (or the American Dream)-and the price people paid to have these benefits-self-reliance, competition, and hard work:

  • Inpidual freedom and self-reliance
  • Equality of opportunity and competition
  • Material wealth and hard work

These three pairs of values have determined the unique culture of the United States and its people. Another way of thinking about these basic values involves rights and responsibilities. Americans believe that people have the right to inpidual freedom, equality of opportunity, and the promise of material success, but these all require substantial responsibility: self-reliance, a willingness to compete, and hard work.

Inpidual Freedom and Self-Reliance

The earliest settlers came to the North American continent to establish colonies that were free from the controls that existed in European societies. They wanted to escape the controls placed on many aspects of their lives by kings and governments, priests and churches, noblemen and aristocrats. To a great extent, they succeeded. In 1776, the British colonial settlers declared their independence from England and established a new nation, the United States of America. In so doing, they defied the king of England and declared that the power to govern would lie in the hands of the people.

They were now free from the power of the kings. In 1787, when they wrote the Constitution for their new nation, they separated church and state so that there would never be a government-supported church. This greatly limited the power of the church. Also, in writing the Constitution they expssly forbade titles of nobility to ensure that an aristocratic society would not develop. There would be no ruling class of noblemen in the new nation.

The historic decisions made by those first settlers have had a profound effect on the shaping of the American character. By limiting the power of the government and the churches and eliminating a formal aristocracy, the early settlers created a climate of freedom where the emphasis was on the inpidual. The United States came to be associated in their minds with the concept of inpidual freedom.

This is probably the most basic of all the American values. Scholars and outside observers often call this value inpidualism, but many Americans use the word freedom. It is one of the most respected and popular words in the United States today.

By freedom, Americans mean the desire and the right of all inpiduals to control their own destiny without outside interference from the government, a ruling noble class, the church, or any other organized authority. The desire to be free of controls was a basic value of the new nation in 1776, and it has continued to attract immigrants to this country.

There is, however, a cost for this benefit of inpidual freedom: self-reliance. Inpiduals must learn to rely on themselves or risk losing freedom. They must take responsibility for themselves. Traditionally, this has meant achieving both financial and emotional independence from their parents as early as possible, usually by age eighteen or twenty-one. Self-reliance means that Americans believe they should take care of themselves, solve their own problems, and “stand on their own two feet.”

Tocqueville observed the Americans’ belief in self-reliance in the 1830s:

They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to4 imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.

This strong belief in self-reliance continues today as a traditional American value. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the American character to understand, but it is profoundly important. Most Americans believe that they must be self-reliant in order to keep their freedom. If they rely too much on the support of their families or the government or any organization, they may lose some of their freedom to do what they want. Even if they are not truly self-reliant, most Americans believe they must at least appear to be so. In order to be in the mainstream of American life-to have power and/or respect-inpiduals must be seen as self-reliant.

For example, if adult children return home to live with their parents because of economic conditions or a failed marriage, most members of the family expect this to be a short-term arrangement, until the children can find a job and be self-reliant. Although receiving financial support from charity, family, or the government is possible, it is usually expected to be for a short time, and it is generally not admired. Eventually, most Americans would say, people have a responsibility for taking care of themselves.

Equality of Opportunity and Competition

The second important reason why immigrants have traditionally been drawn to the United States is the belief that everyone has a chance to succeed here. Generations of immigrants have come to the United States with this expectation. They have felt that because inpiduals are free from excessive political, religious, and social controls, they have a better chance for personal success. Of particular importance is the lack of a hereditary aristocracy.

Because titles of nobility were forbidden in the Constitution, no formal class system developed in the United States. In the early years of American history, many immigrants chose to leave older European societies because they believed that they had a better chance to succeed in America. In “the old country,” the country from which they came, their place in life was determined largely by the social class into which they were born. They knew that in America they would not have to live among noble families who possessed great power and wealth inherited and accumulated over hundreds of years.

The hopes and dreams of many of these early immigrants were fulfilled in their new country. The lower social class into which many were born did not pvent them from trying to rise to a higher social position. Many found that they did indeed have a better chance to succeed in the United States than in the old country. Because millions of these immigrants succeeded, Americans came to believe in equality of opportunity. When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he was impssed by the great uniformity of conditions of life in the new nation. He wrote,

It is important to understand what most Americans mean when they say they believe in equality of opportunity.

They do not mean that everyone is-or should be-equal. However, they do mean that each inpidual should have an equal chance for success. Americans see much of life as a race for success. For them, equality means that everyone should have an equal chance to enter the race and win. In other words, equality of opportunity may be thought of as an ethical rule. It helps ensure that the race for success is a fair one and that a person does not win just because he or she was born into a wealthy family, or lose because of race or religion. This American concept of “fair play” is an important aspect of the belief in equality of opportunity.

President Abraham Lincoln expssed this belief in the 1860s when he said,

We . . . wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor for his whole life.

However, the price to be paid for this equality of opportunity is competition. If much of life is seen as a race, then a person must run the race in order to succeed; a person has the responsibility to compete with others, even though we know not everyone will be successful. If every person has an equal chance to succeed in the United States, then many would say that it is every person’s duty to try.

The pssures of competition in the life of an American begin in childhood and continue until retirement from work. Learning to compete successfully is part of growing up in the United States, and competition is encouraged by strong programs of competitive sports provided by the public schools and community groups. Competitive sports are now popular with both men and women.

The pssure to compete causes Americans to be energetic, but it also places a constant emotional strain on them. When they retire, they are at last free from the pssures of competition. But then a new problem arises. Some may feel useless and unwanted in a society that gives so much pstige to those who compete well. This may be one reason why older people in the United States sometimes do not have as much honor and respect as they have in other, less competitive societies. In fact, generally speaking, any group of people who do not compete successfully-for whatever reason-do not fit into the mainstream of American life as well as those who do compete and succeed.

Material Wealth and Hard Work

The third reason why immigrants have traditionally come to the United States is to have a better life-that is, to raise their standard of living. For the vast majority of the immigrants who came here, this was probably the most compelling reason for leaving their homeland. Because of its incredibly abundant natural resources, the United States appeared to be a land of plenty where millions could come to seek their fortunes. Of course, most immigrants did not “get rich overnight,” and many of them suffered terribly, but the majority of them were eventually able to improve upon their former standard of living. Even if they were not able to achieve the economic success they wanted, they could be fairly certain that their children would have the opportunity for a better life.

The phrase “going from rags to riches” became a slogan for the “American Dream.” Because of the vast riches of the North American continent, the dream came true for many of the immigrants. They achieved material success and many became very attached to material things. Material wealth became a value to the American people.

Placing a high value on material possessions is called materialism, but this is a word that most Americans find offensive. To say that a person is materialistic is an insult. To an American, this means that this person values material possessions above all else. Americans do not like to be called materialistic because they feel that this unfairly accuses them of loving only material things and of having no religious values. In fact, most Americans do have other values and ideals. Nevertheless, acquiring and maintaining a large number of material possessions is still of great importance to most Americans. Why is this so?

One reason is that material wealth has traditionally been a widely accepted measure of social status in the United States. Because Americans rejected the European system of hereditary aristocracy and titles of nobility, they had to find a substitute for judging social status. The quality and quantity of an inpidual’s material possessions became an accepted measure of success and social status. Moreover, as we shall see in the religion chapter, the Puritan work ethic associated material success with godliness.

Americans have paid a price, however, for their material wealth: hard work. The North American continent was rich in natural resources when the first settlers arrived, but all these resources were undeveloped. Only by hard work could these natural resources be converted into material possessions, allowing a more comfortable standard of living. Hard work has been both necessary and rewarding for most Americans throughout their history. Because of this, they came to see material possessions as the natural reward for their hard work.

In some ways, material possessions were seen not only as tangible evidence of people’s work, but also of their abilities. In the late 1700s, James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, stated that the difference in material possessions reflected a difference in personal abilities.

Most Americans still believe in the value of hard work. Most believe that people should hold jobs and not live off welfare payments from the government. There have been many efforts to reform the welfare system so that people would not become dependent on welfare and stop looking for jobs to support themselves. However, a larger question is how much hard work will really improve a person’s standard of living and level of material wealth.

Is it still possible to work hard and get rich in America?

As the United States has shifted from an industry-based economy to one that is service- or information-based, there has been a decline in high-paying jobs for factory workers. It is now much more difficult for the average worker to go from rags to riches in the United States, and many wonder what has happened to the traditional American Dream. As the United States competes in a global economy, many workers are losing their old jobs and finding that they and their family members must now work longer hours for less money and fewer benefits.

When the economy weakens, everyone suffers, and there are greater numbers of the working poor-those who work hard but have low-paying jobs that do not provide a decent standard of living and may not provide health insurance and retirement benefits, and many have to rely on some outside assistance, from the government or other sources.

American Values and the State of the American Dream

In recent years, as the economy has declined, many observers have asked if the American Dream is really dead. For the most part, the American Dream has not meant that the average American can really go from rags to riches. It has traditionally meant that by working hard, parents can enable their children to have a better life when they grow up. Every generation could be a little more prosperous and successful than their parents. While the distance between the very rich 1% and the rest of the population has dramatically increased over the last years, the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe in the ideal of the American Dream-that is, if they work hard they and their children can have a better life. The ideal of upward mobility still exists in America. However, we must distinguish between idealism and reality in understanding the relationship between what Americans believe and how they live. Some who find that they are working longer hours for less money still hope that the American Dream will exist again, if not for them, then for their children.

The fact that American ideals are only partly carried out in real life does not diminish their importance. Most Americans still believe in them and are strongly affected by them in their everyday lives. It is easier to understand what Americans are thinking and feeling if we can understand what these traditional American cultural values are and how they have influenced almost every facet of life in the United States.

It is important to remember two things about these values.

  1. They are cultural values; they are the cultural engine that drives the United States and continues to power a nation where people from all over the world come and become “American.”
  2. Putting these six values together into a system creates something new. As Aristotle said, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The relationship among these values-the rights and the responsibilities-creates the fabric of the American society. It is this fabric that defines the American Dream-the belief that if people take responsibility for their lives and work hard, they will have the inpidual freedom to pursue their personal goals, and a good opportunity to compete for success. These six values are so tightly woven together that if any one of them is pulled out or even disturbed, the entire fabric is affected and may unravel.

It is these basic, traditional cultural values that have created and sustained the United States, and they are fundamental to its continued success. It is imperative that we share them with future generations.