One year ago, terrorists left deep marks on American society, but
hardly those they intended.
Evidence shows that Americans have become more public-minded and
less materialistic, more family- and community-oriented, and even a
bit more spiritual. Although the effects of the 2001 attack on
America are receding, they have far from vanished and some seem to
have considerable staying power. No wonder. They are extending
trends that were unfolding before 9/11/01. All this deserves some
Since the attack, Americans have placed more emphasis on serving
others and less on materialism. Among activities that have become
more meaningful are "spending time with family" (77 percent),
"helping others" (73 percent), and "serving the country" (67
percent), according to a poll for American Demographics magazine. In
contrast, only 30 percent said "getting ahead" means more to them.
Similarly, "retiring young" and "making lots of money" seemed more
important only to a minority (27 percent and 19 percent,
respectively). This change buys us at least one cheer.
Especially telling are the occupations that have gained prestige.
It is commonplace that we now have new heroes: firefighters and
police, whose star rose among 3 out of 4 Americans. The same holds
for our fighting men and women.
Less expected was that various other professions that serve the
public have gained in status, while those that do not have lost
luster. Thus, physicians and teachers are more admired than a year
ago (now 58 and 46 percent, respectively), while athletes and
entertainers have lost prestige. Thanks to the terrorists, we now
have true heroes. A second cheer.
Americans not only say that they have "decided to spend more time
with family," but also report they have actually done so. In
November 2001, according to a Harris Interactive Poll, more than 6
in 10 Americans felt a need to spend more time with family. By May
2002, that was up to 7 out of 10. In the end, about half of all
Americans report that they actually have spent more time with
While more than half of Americans tell pollsters that their
spiritual and religious beliefs have been strengthened by Sept. 11,
there has been no noticeable increase in traditional measures of
religiosity. In October 2001, 57 percent of Americans said they had
thought more about the spiritual parts of their lives since the
attack and 34 percent indicated that they planned to "put more
emphasis on the religious aspects of the [coming] holidays."
However, the percentage of those attending services "more than once
a week," "once a week," "once or twice a month," "a few times a
year," "seldom," or "never" has remained basically the same in
Here the effect of 9/11 is to extend an existing trend. Even
before the 2001 attack only about one-quarter of Americans said that
"doctrines and beliefs are the most important part of religion,"
compared with nearly 7 out of 10 who said that "an individual's
spiritual experience is the most important part of religion,"
according to a US News and World Report poll. …