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United We (Still) Stand

1/27/2014 --

U-M Ross professor, in new book, shows Americans aren't as divided as they think.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Reading the news at times would make it seem Americans are more divided than ever.

The country is often depicted as divided blue states vs. red states, the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent. But U-M Ross Professor Wayne Baker, who has blogged about values since 2008, didn't buy that narrative and set out to challenge it.

His new book, United America, shows there's significantly more agreement among Americans than most believe. Based on years of surveys and research, Baker reveals wide consensus among Americans on 10 core values.

"The story of deep division in this country is misleading," says Baker, Robert P.Thome Professor of Management and Organizations and chair of the management and organizations area at Ross. "There's no question there's gridlock and deep divides among our political leaders. But if you look at what Americans actually think, you find wide areas of agreement. The whole division story has been overplayed."

While writing his Our Values blog, Baker's reading of surveys didn't match what he was reading in the press about a divided America. To prove it, he needed more evidence.

A series of national surveys and research over two years revealed ten values that were strong enough to be deemed "core values" — strongly held by at least three-quarters of the people over the time period and consistent across age, gender, socioeconomic class, religion, region, and political ideology.

Those values are the basis of United America, and Baker illustrates the implications, good and bad. For example, the pursuit of happiness is one of the ten core values that unite Americans. Sounds good, but the idea can be taken too far. Baker addresses the hedonism inherent in this value, using the example of obesity rates and asking if Americans are eating themselves to death.

While Baker's research revealed more agreement among Americans than previously thought, most people still view the country as divided. When asked if people are deeply divided when it comes to core values, most say yes. But when asked about specific values, there's wide consensus on 10 important ones.

"Overall, this is a positive message and I think it can be a really strong antidote to a lot of the corrosive rhetoric we're seeing," Baker says.

There also are clear business implications for what seems largely a sociological exercise. Business doesn't exist in a vacuum, and neither do the people who run companies.

"I think it's important for business leaders to remember that people don't leave their innermost values on the doorstep when they come to work," he says. "I think if you are aware of these values, the ones that unite people, you can tap into them and become a more effective leader."

More about the book.

Read the Our Values blog.



For more information, contact:
Terry Kosdrosky, (734) 936-2502, terrykos@umich.edu