In some respects, Europe is way ahead of the United States. From health care to civil liberties to sexual attitudes, one can make a strong case for “European exceptionalism.” Below are 10 examples of “European exceptionalism” and areas in which Europe is way ahead of the United States.
1. Lower Incarceration Rates
The U.S. incarcerates, per capita, more people than any other country in the world: in 2012, the U.S.’ incarceration rate was 707 per 100,000 people compared to only 60 per 100,000 in Sweden.
2. Less Violent Crime Than the U.S.
In 2012, the U.S. had a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000 people compared to only 0.9 per 100,000 in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands.
3. Better Sex Education Programs, Healthier Sexual Attitudes
European countries with comprehensive sex-ed programs and liberal sexual attitudes actually have lower rates of teen pregnancy and STDs than the US. In Europe, in 2008, there were teen birth rates of 5.3 per 1000 in the Netherlands, compared to 41.5 per 1000 in the United States.
4. Anti-GMO Movement Much More Widespread
Anti-GMO activists are fighting an uphill battle in the U.S., where the Monsanto Corporation (the leading provider of GMO seeds) has considerable lobbying power and poured a ton of money into defeating GMO labeling measures in California and Washington State.
5. Saner Approaches to Abortion
The same far-right Christian fundamentalists who favor outlawing abortion and overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 cannot grasp the fact that two of the things they bitterly oppose—contraception and comprehensive sex education programs—reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and therefore, reduce the need for abortions.
Clearly, better sex education, easier access to birth control and universal healthcare are decreasing the number of abortions in Western Europe. So instead of harassing, threatening and terrorizing abortion providers, the Christian Right needs to examine the positive effects that sexually liberal attitudes are having in Switzerland and other European countries.
6. More Vacation Time
Government-mandated paid vacation time in Europe includes 35 days off in Austria, 31 days off in Italy and France, 34 days off in Germany and Spain, 30 days off in Belgium and 29 days off in the Republic of Ireland.
7. Universal Healthcare
Every developed country in Western Europe has universal health care, which is implemented in different ways in different countries.
8. Greater Life Expectancy
Overall life expectancy (factoring in both genders) in the U.S. is 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland (85 for women, 81 for men), 82 in Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Iceland and Luxembourg, 81 in Norway, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and the Republic of Ireland, and 80 in Malta, the U.K., Belgium, Portugal and Slovenia. In 2013, a report found that life expectancy for males was only 63.9 in McDowell County, West Virginia and 66.7 in Tunica County, Mississippi. So in McDowell County, the average male dies 18 years younger than the average male in Switzerland.
9. Mass Transit Systems
For the vast majority of Americans, living without a car is impractical. From London to Rome to Paris to Barcelona, mass transit is a way of life for millions of Europeans: less congestion, reduced air pollution, health benefits (walking is great exercise), a vibrant street scene/sidewalk culture and more productivity in the workplace (getting to and from work is easier when the busses and trains are convenient and run frequently).
10. Europeans More Likely to Speak Foreign Languages
In the EU, foreign-language study often began as early as six to nine years of age, which is quite a contrast to the U.S.—where foreign-language study is a rarity at the elementary school level and isn’t nearly as common as it should be at the middle school or high school levels.
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