Is Empathy Dead In America?

In this Method research report, we consider the question on many people's minds about the state of empathy in America.

Method Communications

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For millennia, people have been fascinated with understanding what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. However, when you look at the way empathy levels are changing in America, an alarming trend is emerging.  The question on many people’s minds is whether or not empathy is dead — and if so, what will happen next? 

Method recently conducted a survey to gauge the average American’s thoughts on empathy in society and business culture. As we went over the data from more than 2,000 respondents, representing an ethnic, geographic, and socio-economic mix, we found that empathy isn’t extinct — but it is evolving. 

Although nearly a quarter of Americans say empathy “doesn’t matter,” an overwhelming majority of us (73%) agree that it would be better for society if people were more empathetic. Meanwhile, 42% of Americans say empathy has decreased over the past year and 81% of them are concerned about the decline. 

How does this relate to brands? Over half (55%) of Americans say it’s a demonstration of empathy when a company takes a stance on a social or political issue. But the current perception toward brand empathy is shaky, with 66% of Americans expressing some skepticism or outright not believing it when brands take an empathetic stance on a topic. 

In the full report, our research and creative teams grouped the findings into three actionable categories in which brands can show empathy: in their own companies, to their customers, and in culture at large. 

The most effective ways to show empathy, according to consumers, are: paying higher wages (43%); employing a more diverse workforce (40%); and being more accommodating with customers (37%). Only 29% say taking a public stance on a social or political issue is an effective way of practicing empathy. 

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said brands should take a stance on public issues, 20% think they shouldn’t, and 26% say they only should if it directly relates to the brand or its customers. Nearly a third (29%) acknowledge that taking a public stance on a social or political issue is an effective way of practicing empathy. 

Over half (55%) of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a brand that shows empathy and is “human,” with 54% saying they are more likely to shop with that brand when it takes a stance on an issue they agree with. 

The topics consumers most think brands should take a stance on are minimum wage (67%), Covid-19 policies (64%), and women’s rights (62%). Only 37% think brands should be taking a stance on political campaigns/candidates. 

Americans want brands to take a stand on public issues. A quarter of people actually blame large corporations for a lack of empathy in society and say it’s because they have too much power and influence. And almost half of us (46%) say brands should take more responsibility for their role in society at large. 

Tech companies have an extra burden when it comes to showing empathy. Half of Americans (51%) think tech brands have a greater responsibility in society than other industries because they have so much money and influence. In fact, nearly a third (30%) of Americans want technology companies to take the lead in promoting empathy because they act as thought leaders in today’s culture. 

Key Takeaways

  • Actions speak louder than words. While aligning with a cultural moment can drive conversation, customers want to see tangible efforts that are relevant to the company’s overall mission.
  • Find the sweet spot. Too little empathy can leave the impression that the company doesn’t care about, or is opposed to, an issue. Too much can be perceived as disingenuous. 
  • Something is better than nothing. In general, consumers prefer when companies at least attempt empathy rather than staying silent, but it is important to be thoughtful about the cause — speak authentically and execute thoroughly.



Is Empathy Dead in America? A Method Research Report