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Posted on Sun, Feb 19, 2012 : 8 a.m.

Can you guess America's character... weaknesses?

By Wayne Baker

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week, Dr. Baker is relying on a global survey to discuss America's character strengths, along with its weaknesses.

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Every culture—like very person—is a combination of strengths and weaknesses. We know that the top character strengths in America include kindness, fairness, honesty and gratitude.

What are our weaknesses?
What would you guess?

The weakest character strengths in America are in the general area of temperance, the strengths that protect against excess. Of the 24 types of character strengths examined in the global survey we're relying on this week, the three weakest ones for Americans are: modesty, prudence and self-regulation.

The good (or bad) news is that America is not alone. Modesty, prudence and self-regulation are pretty weak around the world, sitting at or near the bottom of the list of 24 character strengths for most of the 54 nations in the survey. The few exceptions include nations like Bahrain, Iceland and Poland, where prudence is somewhat stronger.

Americans do a little better with the character strength of forgiveness, which also comes under the general category of temperance. In America, it ranks #15 out of the 24 possible character strengths.

Are you surprised to by America’s character weaknesses?

Do you agree that these three are weak in America?

What other character weaknesses do you see?

Do character strengths vary across America?

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America as viewed from outer space, courtesy of NASA imagery.

Character strengths must vary across our large and diverse nation — right? After all, we hear constantly about how deeply divided we are.

Character strengths are a family of positive traits. The global survey we've used this week explored 24 traits or strengths around the world and across America. Americans score very high on kindness, fairness, honesty and gratitude, very low on modesty, self-regulation and prudence. (Click any of those links to read the four previous reports, this week.)

But are all parts of our population the same?

Do we share the same character strengths and weaknesses nationwide?

The main and overwhelming pattern the researchers found was this: There is much more similarity than difference when it comes to American character strengths and weaknesses. This striking similarity in character strengths echoes a pattern we've seen in American values.

We’ve discussed this several times on Despite impressions in news media that Americans are in a deep cultural conflict, the truth is that Americans share a set of core values. In the study we've examined this week, we now we see that Americans also share a set of character strengths (and weaknesses).

The researchers dug hard in an effort to find differences. Amid all the similarity, they were able to locate some slight differences. Scores for "religiousness" are a bit higher in Southern states and a bit lower Northeastern and Western states. Similarly, there's a bit more religiousness in Red States and a bit less in Blue States. But, I stress, these differences are minute.

Thus, we conclude this week with more evidence we can stack on the mountain of evidence we've seen before that leads to one conclusion: Americans are largely united when it comes to core values and key character strengths.

Are you surprised?

How about your local community?

Do these findings fit the patterns you see around you?

Please add a comment below and "like" us on Facebook!

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue.

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.