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Americans Have Down-to-Earth Goals for Living Comfortably

Americans Have Down-to-Earth Goals for Living Comfortably

PRINCETON, NJ -- The slight majority of Americans, 55%, believe they could live comfortably on something less than $75,000 a year. That's not an extravagant figure given that the median family income is now about $52,000, although it still represents a daunting income gap to close in today's tough economic times. One in four, 24%, say they would need $100,000 or more to achieve a comfortable lifestyle, slightly more than the 16% already making six figures.

Actual Household Income vs. Income Needed to Live Comfortably, January 2011

Naturally, perceptions of income needed are closely related to current household income. In general, the lower their income bracket, the more likely Americans are to say they need to earn something above that level to live comfortably.

Adults with annual household incomes between $100,000 and $149,999 are the only group with a fairly sizable percentage saying they could live comfortably on something less than their current income. That figure is 40% among those in the highest income bracket, compared with 11% of those with incomes between $50,000 and $99,999, and 5% among those with incomes between $30,000 and $49,999. In fact, Americans earning between $100,000 and $149,999 are more likely to say they could live comfortably on less, rather than more, income.

Ideal Annual Income to Live Comfortably, by Current Household Income, January 2011

Not too long ago, $100,000 was a dream income for Americans. In a 1987 USA Today poll, just 8% of Americans believed they would need $100,000 or more to live comfortably, while the majority, 56%, thought they could achieve that on something less than $50,000.

Younger Women's Income Needs Hardest to Meet

Women aged 18 to 49 are among the most likely to believe they need $100,000 or more to live comfortably, according to the new poll. Additionally, the 31% saying this is nearly double the 17% of 18- to 49-year-old women whose current reported household income is in this range. By contrast, the 23% of younger men who say they would need $100,000 or more is similar to the 19% already in that income bracket.

Women aged 50 and older have the most modest perceptions of what it would take to live comfortably as well as the lowest reported levels of household income.

Ideal Annual Income to Live Comfortably and Actual Annual Household Income, by Gender/Age, January 2011

Despite the gender differences in the amount of money younger adults think it would take to live comfortably, nearly two-thirds of women aged 18 to 49 (66%) as well as men 18 to 49 (63%) told Gallup in April 2010 that they had enough money to live comfortably. Women and men aged 50 and older were somewhat more content, with about three-quarters saying they had enough money.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 14-16, 2011, with a random sample of 1,032 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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