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Americans' Life Ratings Edge Higher

Americans' Life Ratings Edge Higher

by Elizabeth Mendes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More Americans were "thriving" and fewer were "struggling" in May than have been since February of last year. Fifty-four percent of Americans rated their lives highly enough to be considered thriving last month and 42.6% were considered struggling.

thriving, struggling, and suffering in the U.S., 2008-2012

The percentage of Americans who are thriving has been steadily climbing since February and is now about on par with the high of 54.2% found in January and February of last year. Many more Americans are thriving than were during the 2008 and 2009 economic crisis.

Gallup classifies Americans as "thriving," "struggling," or "suffering" according to how they rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale with steps numbered from 0 to 10 based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. Those who rate their present life a 7 or higher and their live in five years an 8 or higher are classified as thriving, while those who rate both dimensions a 4 or lower are considered suffering. Respondents whose ratings fall in between are considered struggling.

While Americans' life ratings have improved slightly each of the past three months, this uptick reflects the increase in the percentage of women who are thriving. The percentage of women who are thriving has been on an upward trajectory since March, rising from 55.1% to 56.0% in April, and further to 56.5% in May. At the same time, the percentage of men who are thriving has remained essentially unchanged -- 51.5% in March and April and 51.3% in May.

Gallup has consistently found a higher percentage of women than men thriving since it started tracking Americans' life ratings in January 2008. However, the gap in thriving between women and men has grown since that time. While men's and women's life ratings fell amid the financial crisis, women have bounced back more strongly than have men.

Percentages of men and women thriving

Seniors' Life Ratings Up the Most Since 2008, but Still Lower Than Younger Adults'

The percentage of seniors, those aged 65 and older, who are thriving has increased over the past three months, rising to 45.1% in May -- much higher than the 39.6% who were thriving in January 2008 before the economic crisis. This same level of improvement, however, is not seen among younger adults. The percentage of Americans aged 18 to 29, 30 to 44, and 45 to 64 who are thriving has been relatively unchanged over the past three months -- and remains about on par with the levels seen in early 2008.

Still, seniors remain the least likely to be thriving and young adults the most likely.

percentages of adults thriving by age group

Low-Income Adults' Life Ratings Have Improved More Than High-Income Adults'

Low-income Americans' life ratings are much better today than they were in early 2008, with 43.0% evaluating their lives well enough to be thriving, higher than the 37.6% measured in January 2008. Middle-income and high-income Americans, however, are about as likely to be thriving today as they were at the start of 2008.

percentages of adults thriving by income per year

Bottom Line

Americans' life ratings improved in May, with the percentage thriving rising for the third straight month. This increase in thriving has come at the same time that Americans' confidence in the economy has grown. In fact, the Gallup Economic Confidence Index registered its best monthly reading since January 2008 in May.

However, these improvements in Americans' psyche came before the government put out its June 1 jobs report, which found an increase in unemployment and subsequently generated considerable negative media attention. Since the report, Americans' confidence in the economy has declined slightly, but so far, their life ratings have not worsened. Americans might evaluate their lives less well in the future if they perceive a worsening economic situation.

Before the June 1 jobs report, Americans reported feeling better about their lives than in the recent past -- with women's, seniors', and low-income adults' life ratings improving since pre-financial crisis levels. This may reveal that men, young adults, the middle aged, and middle- and high-income adults are having a harder time recovering psychology -- and perhaps financially -- from the recession and ensuing jobs crisis than are their counterparts.

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 are based on telephone interviews conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey May 1-31, 2012, with a random sample of 30,252 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

Life Evaluation Index figures from January 2008 to April 2009 reflect re-estimates calculated to address context effects that Gallup discovered after the data were originally published.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

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.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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