Most of the shows I review on this blog are American, because of the sheer size of the industry and the way that the shows are exported around the world (show me someone on this earth that’s never seen an episode of Friends and I’ll show you someone raised by wolves). As a born and raised citizen, I know what it actually looks like, and how different it looks in real life to the America in the many movies and TV shows that I watch. Whole groups of people are missing, and others are grossly misrepresented. To give a fuller picture of how different this is, I have calculated the actual numbers of different groups in the US so you can compare for yourself. Also, while the US is a huge country with a lot of diversity, most of the movies and television is made in New York and LA/California, so I look at both the US as a whole and the demographics of those two cities. I figure, what do the producers see when they are walking (NY) or driving (LA) down the street?
How faithful to the country is the media we produce?
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Of course, the US population is roughly 51% female, and 49% male. Transgender people are currently estimated to be 0.3% of the total population, but since it’s a group that’s newly been given rights it’s possible that number will go up as time marches on (and people feel more comfortable answering surveys).
The LGBTQ/gay community is extremely diverse, with a range of sexual orientations and gender identification. Numbers vary, but up to about 4% of Americans self-identify as LGBT, with about 2% identifying as gay or lesbian.
Cities with the largest LGBT percentage include San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. However, the largest total numbers of LGBT are in New York and Los Angeles.
Approximately 70% of the entire US is white, although they are more concentrated in the northern part of the US in states like Vermont, Idaho, and North Dakota.
Hispanics /Latinos make up 16% of the population, and are concentrated in the southwest. California, New Mexico, Florida, and New Jersey have some of the highest populations of Hispanics. The city of Los Angeles (a stone’s throw from Hollywood) is 45% Latino, and New York is 27% Latino.
Blacks/ African Americans represent 13% of the US population and are highly concentrated in the southern states like Mississippi, Georgia and Maryland as well as cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. LA is 10% black and New York City is 25% black.
Asians represent 5% of the total population, but more than 11% of New York and Los Angeles. Their ancestry hails mostly from China, the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filipinos and Chinese have been in the US since the 18th and 19th centuries, so many Asian Americans are in not really ‘immigrants’.
Native Americans/American Indians are 1% of the population. About 20% of them live on reservations or ‘trusted lands’ that are self-governing areas. Less than 60% of them live in cities (the lowest of any group), which means they are underrepresented in many of the areas where film and television is made. For example, just 0.4% of New York City is Native American.
Jews make up about 2% of the total American population. New York City is roughly 14% Jewish, and LA is about 5%.
Asians make up the biggest immigrant group by inflows in the US as legal permanent residents. After Asians (45%) are others from the Americas (42%), primarily Latin Americans. Africans (10%) follow next, then Europeans (8%). These groups have changed significantly over the years as laws and geopolitical factors change, however.
70% of the US population is Christian. But unlike most other Christian countries, Christians are pretty diverse, with a wide variety of Protestants (46%) and a number of Catholics (21%). Many of the American Catholics are more recent immigrant groups from Catholic countries, such as Latinos, Italian-Americans, and Portuguese-Americans. Protestants, meanwhile, span the breadth of ‘mainline Protestant’ at 15%, and evangelical at 25%.
Jews in the US can either be merely ‘cultural’ or also ‘religious’. Cultural Jews are part of the ethnic group but may not practice the religion, or even be atheists. Religious Jews may be ‘reform’, similar to Christianity’s Protestantism, or they may be Orthodox, which carries a number of strict requirements for dress and behavior.
Approximately 1% of the US is Muslim, and most are from recent immigrant groups from South Asia (Bangladeshis, Pakistanis), and the Middle East (Arabs, Persians). About a quarter are African American, the largest ‘native born’ group of Muslims.
3% of Americans identify as atheists and 4% as agnostics, though this probably higher in the north, and in cities.
Hindus and Buddhists represent less than 1% each of the US population.
About 22% of Americans are ‘religiously unaffiliated’, and about 70% of this group believes in God but doesn’t follow a specific religion.
The average age of marriage is 27 for women and 29 for men. By state, it ranges from a low of 24/26 in religious low-density Utah, to 30/31 in urban professional hub DC.
But the US also suffers from a high divorce rate: 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, with an even higher rate for second and third marriages. Many people who are not religious cohabitate prior to marriage, but this doesn’t seem to slow the rate much.
Mothers (and, ahem, therefore fathers) have an average of 2.4 children, a number that’s been steadily declining. There are a rising number of DINKS (dual income, no kids) couples, and in 2014 a whopping 47% of adult women had no children.
The New York metropolitan area is the biggest in the country at almost 20 million people, and it’s the setting for a LOT of TV shows and movies. LA is second at almost 13 million people, and it’s also the seat of Hollywood and where many shows and movies- sometimes even those ‘set’ in New York – like Mad Men– get made.
Other big cities include Chicago (3m people), Houston (2m), and Philadelphia (1.5m).
Now you know what the US looks like, if you didn’t before. When you watch TV shows with no characters of color or no LGBT characters, ask yourself: does this match with what the producer sees when he/she walks off set?