Younger Americans Pessimistic About Opportunities

July 3, 2012

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Government & Politics | Household Income | Staffing | Youth & Gen X

burstonmarsteller-attitudes-hard-work-success-july2012.png7 in 10 of Americans believe that with hard work they can accomplish anything, while 28% believe that success is dependent upon factors like connections, inherited wealth and sheer luck. The most pessimistic group by age are Americans age 18-29, with 33% distrusting the value of hard work, versus 27% across other age groups, according to [pdf] a report from Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Burston-Marsteller. Among political affiliations, Republicans are the most optimistic, with 85% trusting in the rewards of hard work, followed by Independents at 66%, and Democrats at 64%.

The most optimistic about hard work are those in their early to mid careers, between ages 30-44: 72% of them believe hard work pays.

These findings follow results of a June 2012 USA Today/Gallup Poll, in which 58% of adults on average said they were dissatisfied with the next generation’s prospects, compared to just 40% who were satisfied. Still, this represents a rebound: after falling from 36% in 1992 to just 24% two years later, satisfaction has climbed back to 40% this year.

Economy “On The Wrong Track”

When asked if the US economy is on the right track or off on the wrong track, 66% of Americans chose “wrong track,” up from 60% in 2010. 32% believe it is on the right track, up from 29% in 2010. Again, young Americans are the most cynical, with 69% of those aged 18-29 choosing “wrong track” versus 62% of those 65+ choosing “right track.” Not surprisingly, Republicans overwhelmingly choose “wrong track” at 89%, versus 44% of Democrats.

Youth Is Wary of Business

Among all Americans, 43% agree with the idea that what is good for business is good for America, but younger Americans drag down the average. Just 35% of Americans aged 18-29 share that view, compared to 45% of middle-aged respondents (ages 45-64) and 61% of senior respondents (over 65).

Also, just 17% of Americans believe Wall Street executives share fundamental American values, while 79% believe those executives have a different set of values. Interestingly, the most trustful of Wall Street is the 18-29-year-old set, at 23%, while the least trustful are those in mid-career to retirement, 45-64, at 82%.

Young Americans Credit Themselves With High Morals

However pessimistic they are about economic values, younger Americans lead in believing that American values are stronger now than they were in the 1970s, with 26% demonstrating this sentiment, versus 16% of those 30-44, 13% of those 45-64, and 15% of those 65+. Younger Americans perceive themselves as more morally accepting than their parents, in a number of hot-button topics including homosexuality, unmarried cohabitation, marijuana use, and abortion.

Other Findings:

  • Those who earn $75,000+ are the most optimistic of the income groups, with 79% trusting in hard work, versus just 62% of those who earn under $35k.
  • 39% believe that wealthy Americans worked harder than others to be successful, while 49% believe the wealthy were born into wealthy families or had more opportunities than others.
  • 62% of Democrats believe that the primary reason for financial success is a wealthy family, while an almost identical number of Republicans believe it comes from hard work.
  • 79% of Americans think that the decline of the manufacturing industry has had a negative impact on American values.
  • 69% of Americans believe that healthcare is the responsibility of the government, up from just over half in 2009.
  • 76% of Americans feel that it is more important to focus on their children’s future success versus making them happy in the moment.
  • Americans most frequently name Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham as being the individual most representative of American values.
  • When asked to name the most important issues facing the country, the economy and jobs led, very strongly, at 52%, with “deficit and government spending” and “health care” tying for a distant second place, at 6%. “Moral values/family values” was fourth, at just 5%, ahead of “big government / bureaucracy” at 4% and “education” and “partisan politics” tied at 3%.
  • Seven in 10 Americans believe that elected officials reflect mainly the values of the wealthy.

About The Data: Penn Schoen Berland conducted 2,006 interviews with the adult general population of the United States. 1,006 interviews were conducted by telephone and 1,000 conducted online. Male/female ratio was 963/1,043. Age groups represented including 18-29; 30-44; 45-64; 65+. Four quadrants of the US represented were northeast, Midwest, south, west. Data are reflective of US Census Bureau demographic statistics in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, income, education and region.

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