America is the most diverse country in the world: diverse racially and ethnically, diverse geographically, diverse economically. Across the 2,680 miles that the Lower 48 states span are hundreds of millions of people living in every imaginable type of home, holding nearly every conceivable political position.
It made us wonder: What does the average American look like?
To answer that question, we dipped into Census Bureau data and recent polling to get a sense of what that American looks like, where he or she lives, and what he or she believes.
The average American is a woman. 50.8 percent of Americans are women.
The average American is white and not Hispanic. 60.7 percent of Americans fit that description.
We quickly hit a stumbling block, though. Once you start going down various branches of the American population, the majorities shift. Most Americans are women and most Americans are white, but are most women white? As it happens, yes, but as we proceed, we will at times explore what our theoretical average American does or believes as opposed to what an American overall believes on average. In other words: At times, the difference between what an American white woman thinks and what an American overall thinks might diverge.
Here’s an example:
She’s 52 years old. The most common age of white women in the United States is 52. Overall, the most common age is 57. But these both differ from the median age in the country. That figure is 37.7 years, meaning that half of Americans are older and half younger than that number. (We’ll note here that most of these data points are a bit out of date. Census Bureau data and other indicators are often released a year or two after the periods they describe.)
She has a bachelor’s degree. More Americans (and more whites) have only high school degrees than have bachelor’s degrees (26 percent to 21.3 percent), but more Americans over the age of 25 have been to college than not (60.9 percent have been). Among that group, a bachelor’s is the most common outcome (about 35 percent obtain one).
She works in “education and health services.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks private-sector employment into industries. The most common industry for women — and Americans overall — is education and health services. The most common category of employment within that industry is “ambulatory health care services,” meaning, among other things, working for a doctor’s office, in home health care or for a diagnostic laboratory.
She earns $889.62 a week. That figure is for education and health services only. It’s up about $22 since July 2017, but much of that increase is eaten up by inflation.
She lives in a city. About 4 in 5 housing units are in urban areas.
But which city? Let’s consider this through a political lens.
She’s a political independent — who tends to vote Democratic. The largest political group in the country is independents, but most independents tend to vote for one party or the other. The most recent data from Gallup suggests that the average American is an independent and, if so, leans Democratic. Here we get back into the problem identified above: There are about twice as many Democrats as Democrat-leaning independents. But since the latter is a subset of the larger group of independents, it seems more accurate.
She voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. A plurality of the Americans who cast votes preferred Clinton to Donald Trump, especially among women.
So which city? The largest state in the country in terms of population is California, which backed Clinton overwhelmingly. The average state, though, went for Trump by about five points. That includes less-populous states, certainly, but we’re going to cheat a bit and pick a state that leaned toward Trump. Specifically, Texas, one of the fastest-growing states in the country.
About as many Americans live in cities with populations between 100,000 and 250,000 as in cities with a population of 250,000 to 1,000,000. So let’s say that our average American lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, a city that grew more than 8 percent from 2016 to 2017. It’s about half an hour from Dallas, for which it serves as a bedroom community. Which helps because . . .
The average American has a 26.1-minute commute. So Frisco works nicely.
She’s married and lives with her spouse. While only 48.6 percent of all Americans age 15 or older live with a spouse, 62.8 percent of women age 50 to 54 do. The spouse is probably a man; same-sex marriages make up a small percentage of all marriages in the country.
She lives in a house that she owns or that another resident owns. Most Americans do. It was probably built in the late 1970s and is about 1,700 square feet. Or, at least, that would be true nationally. In Frisco, the odds are much better that the house is new construction, given how quickly the population is spreading out into the plains.
There’s probably another person there, too. The average household size in urban areas in the South is 2.65 people.
She’s an evangelical Baptist. A Public Religion Research Institute survey released last fall determined that white evangelicals made up about 17 percent of the U.S. population, with Baptists making up nearly 44 percent of Protestants in the South.
This is another place where the averages for our specific average American buck the national trend. After all, white evangelicals went for Trump by a 64-point margin. Imagine that our average American is in the 16 percent who went for Clinton.
This, in its own way, is illustrative. Evangelicals are a minority of the country but the largest cohesive religious group. It was that sort of loyal core minority that powered Trump’s winning of the nomination of the Republican Party and has continued to power his approval ratings. Most Americans, though, aren’t in that group.
She disapproves of Trump’s performance as president. The RealClearPolitics average of recent opinion polling has 52.1 percent of Americans disapproving of Trump. In June, independents in Texas were slightly more likely to disapprove of Trump’s performance as president than to approve.
It’s safe to also assume the following, based on recent polling:
She believes that Trump has strengthened the economy. A poll from Marist College has pluralities of Americans and independents holding this position. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University shows pluralities of both groups approving of Trump’s handling of the economy.
She believes that Trump has weakened America’s standing globally. In the Marist poll, an overall majority and a majority of independents believe that Trump has weakened the U.S. role on the world stage. In Quinnipiac’s poll, the same held true.
She would rather see Democrats control the House than Republicans. As it stands, the Democrats have a four-point advantage in the generic ballot, according to RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polls.
In the Marist poll, the Democrats have a three-point advantage among independents. An additional 13 percent said they plan to vote for neither party, raising another point.
She probably won’t vote. Most Americans don’t vote in midterms. While our average American is in groups that are more likely to vote — white, older, better-educated — it’s still unlikely. The U.S. Elections Project looked at Census Bureau data to determine that 41 percent of non-Hispanic whites voted in 2014, as did 42.6 percent of those ages 45 to 59 and 41.4 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.
Our average American’s views on politics probably won’t be heard in November.