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Many Europeans Believe They Can Get Ahead With Hard Work

Many Europeans Believe They Can Get Ahead With Hard Work

by Anna Manchin

BRUSSELS -- Europeans' belief that they can get ahead if they work hard is largely intact, even though the recent financial crisis has negatively affected their views of their personal and economic well-being. Europeans in several countries, particularly Germany, are more likely than ever before to believe this. But this faith is shaken in Greece and Romania, where the percentages saying they can get ahead if they work hard have dropped 15 or more percentage points.

Get ahead by working hard? In EU countries

People living in northern and western Europe are generally more likely to believe they can get ahead than people living in southern and eastern European countries, which have been harder hit by the financial crisis. But this divide largely existed even before the crisis.

Majorities in northern and western European countries say people in their countries can get ahead with hard work -- ranging from 74% in France to 90% in Luxembourg in 2011. Most of these figures are generally in line with the median of 85% worldwide who believe this. Germans, whose attitudes have remained relatively buoyant throughout the recent eurozone crisis, became significantly more optimistic about their ability to get ahead in 2011. The percentage of Germans who believe people in their country can get ahead by working hard has risen nearly 20 points since the crisis.

In eastern Europe and some parts of southern Europe, people are more divided. Residents of these countries are among the least likely worldwide to believe people in their country can get ahead by working hard. Their sentiment aligns more closely with residents in countries in the former Soviet Union than in the rest of the EU. Less than half of residents currently believe they can get ahead in Hungary (38%), Romania (41%), Bulgaria (44%), and Poland (46%). A slim majority of Greeks (51%) say people in their country can get ahead if they work hard, but this has declined precipitously amid the economic and social turmoil gripping their nation.

Bottom Line

Many Europeans remain optimistic that they can get ahead if they work hard, even amid a difficult job market climate: Majorities in most European countries see now as a bad time to find a job. On the other hand, people in many of the worst-off countries seem uncertain that people can be successful even if they have the opportunity to work. Many of these same countries also suffer from high rates of perceived corruption and low trust in their national government.

A lack of faith in meritocracy and the financial reward of hard work may be connected to perceptions of corruption and lack of transparency in economic activity. In many of these countries, a cultural climate in which who you know is more important than what you can do represents a particular challenge for countries struggling to boost economic optimism.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults in each EU member state between 2008 and 2011. For results based on each sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ±3.5 percentage points to ±4 percentage points.

The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. 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.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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