Even in its Americanization, the South has certain distinguishing characteristics. Among them:

*It is the least urban region of the country. Thirty-eight percent of southerners live in rural areas, compared with 22 percent of the rest of the country.

*It is still the poorest region of the country. A century ago, per-capita income in the South was one-third that of the rest of the United States; today it is 86 percent. It may have reached a plateau, however. "Progress toward the goal of income parity with the rest of the nation has been basically stalled" since 1974, according to the Southern Growth Policies Board, a nonprofit economic development group. The board projects that between now and 1990, per-capita income growth in the South will trail the rest of the country, largely because of its lagging rural economy.

*New jobs in the South are being added nearly twice as fast in the metropolitan areas as in rural areas. The region has lost more than 110,000 textile and apparel jobs since 1980, mostly in rural areas.

*The population of the South grew at nearly twice the national rate in the 1970s, and it has grown 50 percent faster than the rest of the country in the 1980s. The nation's fastest growing region, however, is the West.

*The vast exodus of blacks occurred in every decade of the century until the 1970s, but there has been a reverse migration in the past decade. From 1975 to 1980, for example, the South gained a net of more than 200,000 black migrants, roughly the same it had lost from 1965-1970. Twenty percent of southerners are black, compared with 12 percent nationally.

*The per-pupil expenditures of every southern state in 1984-85 trailed national averages, as did high school graduation rates. In most southern states, graduation rates were lower in 1984 than they were in 1972. This slippage occurred despite an inflation-adjusted increase in per-pupil expenditures of between 24 and 60 percent in southern states from 1970-1984, compared to an average national increase of 31 percent in the same period.

*The South has witnessed a sharp rise in fundamentalist and evangelical church membership in the past two decades, even as the rest of the nation has seen a stagnation or decline in membership in main-line Protestant denominations. The Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with nearly 15 million members.

*If the South is more fundamentalist than the rest of the country, so too is it more politically conservative. Three examples from recent Washington Post surveys illustrate some of the differences: 80 percent of southerners approved of the U.S. air strike against Libya, compared with 74 percent of the rest of the country; 52 percent of southerners favor substantial cuts in military spending, compared with 58 percent of non-southerners; 41 percent of southerners approved of a couple living together without being married, opposed to 52 percent of non-southerners.