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Larry, Moe and curly fries: It's the American way of life

July 08, 2008|Brenna Maloney | Washington Post

Kevin O'Keefe has a thing or two to say about the average citizen.

The average American can name all Three Stooges but not all three branches of the federal government. He lives within three miles of a McDonald's, he has no ambition to be famous and he prefers whole milk to other kinds.

And O'Keefe, author of "The Average American: The Extraordinary Search for the Nation's Most Ordinary Citizen," is just warming up.

For years, O'Keefe held high-profile jobs in the sports and entertainment industries. He worked on countless national marketing and public relations campaigns, all designed to reach the average American. Over time, O'Keefe began to wonder whether he knew who that was.

"I really felt I had this need to understand the average American, whomever he or she was," O'Keefe says.

So he went on a quest. After collecting facts from every credible source he could find (government agencies, polling firms, research organizations and other media), O'Keefe began traveling and interviewing his fellow Americans. He crisscrossed the country for more than two years, research book in hand, trying to create a portrait of the average American.

As he did so, he made an interesting discovery. "We have these impressions that in some cases are left over from years and years ago, like the impression that someone who is an average American lives on a farm in Middle America," O'Keefe says. "Well, the last time that most Americans lived in rural areas was about 100 years ago. Most average Americans live in metropolitan areas."

Armed with his statistics, O'Keefe says, he was able to "knock down many of the myths about Americans."

"We have this image that the average American is lacking in smarts," O'Keefe says, "but in this country, the average IQ scores have increased three points per decade since nationwide IQ testing began in the 1920s."

Here are a few other things he learned:

* Sixty percent of Americans live in the state in which they were born.

* The average American believes nature is sacred or spiritual but spends 95% of his time indoors.

* The average American buys 800 gallons of gas a year and consumes 55 gallons of soft drinks a year.

* Sixty percent of Americans eat peanut butter at least once a week, and the average American eats three pounds of it a year.

* Americans spend over $100 more a year on footwear than on vegetables.

* The average American shower lasts 10.4 minutes.

* Sixty-nine percent of Americans go to the movies at least once a year.

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