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Annoyed by cell phones ringing in the middle of a movie? Sick of getting cut off on the highway? Offended by crude language in public? You're not alone. Seventy-nine percent of Americans say that a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious problem in our society, and 61 percent believe that rude and selfish behavior has increased in recent years. According to a study released in April by New York-based Public Agenda, Americans of all demographic groups are similarly concerned about the lack of civility in society — and they're not talking table manners.

Researchers initially set out to examine American attitudes regarding moral and ethical behavior. However, during focus groups conducted in seven U.S. cities during the spring of 2001, they found that people had much more to say about everyday violations of courtesy. In January, with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Public Agenda quantified the anecdotal findings with a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,013 adults. The results were chronicled in the report “Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America.�

It seems that the more gadgets Americans have, the less civil they become. Almost half of Americans (49 percent) say they often see people using their cell phones in a loud or annoying manner in public, yet only 17 percent of cell phone users admit to participating in such inappropriate behavior. City dwellers are more likely than rural residents to have witnessed such a cell phone faux pas (54 percent compared with 38 percent).

Others are more offended by the language they overhear during those loud cell phone calls. Forty-four percent of Americans say they hear people use crude or rude language in public, and 56 percent say it bothers them a lot. Even so, 36 percent admit to swearing in public themselves (45 percent of men and 26 percent of women). Those who live in the South are most opposed to vulgar language: 76 percent say that it is always wrong to use the Lord's name in vain, compared with 65 percent of people in the Midwest and 56 percent of people in the West. Only half of Northeasterners say it is always wrong.

No matter what part of the country you're in, however, rude drivers are always unwelcome. About half of Americans (58 percent) say they often see drivers who are reckless or aggressive on the road, and 66 percent say that such driving bothers them a lot. But interestingly, only about a third (35 percent) of respondents who drive admit to driving recklessly themselves.

Bad manners have infected the workplace as well. Almost 4 in 10 people (39 percent) who work outside the home say they have colleagues who are rude or disrespectful, and 31 percent say their supervisors are equally uncouth.

An overwhelming number of Americans are similarly dissatisfied with the treatment they get from the businesses they patronize, especially when it comes to customer service. Nearly all respondents (94 percent) say they find it frustrating to call a company and get a recorded message rather than a person. Eighty-one percent say that too many stores cut corners by not hiring enough salesclerks, thereby forcing customers to wait for service.

These results may seem surprising in the shadow of Sept. 11, when human compassion and respect were reportedly widespread. In fact, some 74 percent of Americans in this study did say that people became more caring and thoughtful toward one another following the terrorist attacks — but just 34 percent think that this wave of civility will last a long while. Almost half (46 percent) think that the love-thy-neighbor trend will last for only a few more months, while 18 percent think it's already over.

For more information, contact Michael Darden at (212) 686-6610, ext. 40.


Most Americans (84 percent) blame parents for rudeness in society.


Parents fail to teach respect to their kids 84%
Values and morality are in decline 62%
There are too many negative role models for kids 60%
People are often in over-crowded places or long lines, and they get frustrated 50%
Life is so hectic, and people are so busy that they forget to be polite 47%
There is a declining sense of community 47%
Source: Public Agenda


Most Americans (67 percent) believe that people who hail from small towns are more polite than the average person.


People living in rural areas and small towns 67%
People who are deeply religious 54%
People in the South 39%
People who are well-educated 28%
Source: Public Agenda
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