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10 Things Europe Does Way Better Than America

Europe is ahead of America when it comes to healthcare, better sex ed and less violent crime.

Photo Credit: Henner Damke


The term “American exceptionalism” is often tossed around by politicians. Neocons, far-right Christian fundamentalists and members of the Republican Party in particular seem to hate it when anyone dares to suggest that some aspects of European life are superior to how we do things. But facts are facts, and the reality is that 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.” That is not to say that Europe isn’t confronting some major challenges in 2014: neoliberal economic policies and brutal austerity measures are causing considerable misery in Greece, Spain and other countries. The unemployment rate in Spain, the fourth largest economy in the Eurozone, stands at a troubling 26%—although Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Iceland have lower unemployment rates than the U.S. (5.1% in Germany, 3.1.% in Switzerland, 4.6% in Iceland, 4.2% in Denmark). But problems and all, Europe continues to be one of the most desirable parts of the world. And the U.S.—a country that is in serious decline both economically and in terms of civil liberties—needs to take a close look at some of the things that European countries are doing right.

Below are 10 examples of “European exceptionalism” and areas in which Europe is way ahead of the United States.

1. Lower Incarceration Rates

Benjamin Franklin famously said that those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither, and the U.S. is more dangerous than most of Europe (especially in terms of homicide) even though it is becoming more and more of a police state. The U.S. incarcerates, per capita, more people than any other country in the world: in 2012, the U.S.’ incarceration rate, according to the  International Centre for Prison Studies, was 707 per 100,000 people compared to only 60 per 100,000 in Sweden, 72 per 100,000 in Norway, 78 per 100,000 in Germany, 75 per 100,000 in the Netherlands, 87 per 100,000 in Switzerland, 99 per 100,000 in Italy, 103 per 100,000 in France, and 144 per 100,000 in Spain. Certainly, the failed War on Drugs and the Prison/Industrial Complex are major factors in the U.S.’ appallingly high incarceration rate, and unless the U.S. seriously reforms its draconian drug laws, it will continue to lock up a lot more of its people than Europe.

2. Less Violent Crime Than the U.S.

Major European cities like Brussels, Paris, Berlin and Milan can be very bad for nonviolent petty crimes like pickpocketing. The tradeoff, however, is that much of Europe—especially Western Europe—tends to have a lot less violent crime than the United States. Research conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that in 2012, the U.S. had a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000 people compared to only 0.3 per 100,000 in Iceland, 0.7 per 100,000 in Sweden, 0.8 per 100,000 in Denmark and Spain, 0.9 per 100,000 in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands, 1.0 per 100,000 in France, and 1.2 per 100,000 in Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. Russia, however, had a homicide rate of 9.2 per 100,000 that year, but overall, one is more likely to be murdered in the U.S. than in Europe.

3. Better Sex Education Programs, Healthier Sexual Attitudes

For decades, the Christian Right has been trying to convince Americans that social conservatism and abstinence-only sex education programs will reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. The problem is that the exact opposite is true: European countries with comprehensive sex-ed programs and liberal sexual attitudes actually have  lower rates of teen pregnancy and STDs. Looking at data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Guttmacher Institute, Advocates for Youth and other sources, one finds a lot more teen pregnancies in the U.S. than in Europe. Comprehensive sex-ed programs are the norm in Europe, where in 2008, there were teen birth rates of 5.3 per 1000 in the  Netherlands, 4.3 per 1000 in Switzerland and 9.8 per 1000 in Germany compared to 41.5 per 1000 in the United States. In 2009, Germany had one-sixth the HIV/AIDS rate of the United States (0.1% of Germany’s adult population living with HIV or AIDS compared to 0.6% of the U.S. adult population), while the Netherlands had one-third the number of people living with HIV or AIDS that year (0.2% of the Netherlands’ population compared to 0.6% of the U.S.’ adult population).

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