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Americans Sour on Finances, Future vs. 1998, but Only Slightly

Americans Sour on Finances, Future vs. 1998, but Only Slightly

by Alyssa Davis

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are only slightly less satisfied with their future prospects, income, net worth, and housing situation today than they were during a good economy in 1998, the last time Gallup asked them about these issues. Although a majority is satisfied with each item measured, Americans are most satisfied with their family life (90%) and least satisfied with their financial net worth (50%), unchanged from 13 years ago.

Satisfaction with life aspects, 1998 vs. 2011

Americans have remained relatively positive over the past 13 years about their personal financial situation and opportunities to succeed in life, which may be surprising given their negativity about the U.S. economy in general, the recent housing crisis, and high unemployment. Americans' satisfaction with their future prospects has declined the most since 1998, followed by their satisfaction with their income and savings. Still, satisfaction levels with future prospects and income are not the lowest on record.

Additionally, the results may reveal a disconnect between what most Americans think and the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has focused on unfair wealth distribution and the supposed dearth of opportunity for the "99%." The majority of Americans are satisfied with their personal situation -- as they were in 1998 -- suggesting that the macroeconomic situation may not be the most important consideration for Americans when evaluating their personal lives. Alternatively, the relatively stable satisfaction levels may reflect that for the vast majority of Americans, their personal financial situation does not change dramatically from year to year.

Low-Income Americans Half as Satisfied as the High-Income With Income, Net Worth

Low-income Americans fall behind high-income Americans the most in terms of their satisfaction with their income, savings, opportunities to succeed in life, and housing situation. However, a majority of low-income Americans are satisfied with their future prospects, opportunities to succeed, housing situation, and family life. The two items on which less than half of low-income Americans are satisfied are income (41%) and net worth (27%).

Satisfaction with life aspects, by annual income

Bottom Line

Americans' satisfaction with their personal financial situation has remained relatively stable since 1998, especially considering that economic conditions are worse today than in that year. This perhaps provides an unseen benefit in a torrent of negativity about the economy. Other recent Gallup surveys also find that Americans remain positive about their personal situation, despite difficult national economic conditions. The majority of Americans put themselves in the "haves" category instead of the "have nots," and they have grown less likely to say the country is divided into such groups.

Americans' satisfaction with the future facing them and their family has dropped slightly more since 1998 than the other five dimensions measured. This could be important, as increasing Americans' optimism for the future could relate to their willingness to spend more freely -- a critical factor necessary for an improving economy.

About the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index tracks well-being in the U.S., U.K., and Germany and provides best-in-class solutions for a healthier world. To learn more, please visit

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 28-Dec. 1, 2011, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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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