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Americans Divided on Outlook for Next Generation

Americans Divided on Outlook for Next Generation

Half doubt today's youth will have a better life than their parents

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are evenly divided about whether it is likely (49%) or unlikely (50%) that the next generation of youth in the country will have a better life than their parents. That is a slightly more positive assessment than in early 2011, when the slight majority, 55%, thought it was unlikely the next generation would achieve this goal.

Trend: Chances That Today's Youth Will Have a Better Life Than Their Parents

Still, views today remain depressed compared with 2008 through early 2010, when Gallup polls found solid majorities of Americans feeling generally optimistic that young people's standard of living would eclipse their parents'. Prior to that, in polls conducted by other survey firms between 1998 and 2003, optimism on this question was also dominant. One has to go back to 1995 to find the public about evenly split, as it is today.

The latest results are based on a USA Today/Gallup survey conducted Dec. 14-17, 2012.

Democrats, Young, and Lower-Income Adults Are Most Optimistic

Currently, Democrats are significantly more optimistic than Republicans about young people's chances of exceeding their parents' standard of living. Also, young adults are more optimistic than those 35 and older, and lower-income Americans are more optimistic than upper-income Americans.

Democrats' outlook on this question has been consistently bright in recent Gallup polling since 2009, all conducted when Democratic President Barack Obama has been in office. At the same time, the percentage of Republicans who are optimistic has dramatically declined, from 75% in January 2008 to 29% in the latest survey. By contrast, in 2008, when George W. Bush was president, Republicans were the more optimistic.

Similarly, since 2008, optimism among older adults and upper-income Americans has waned more than that among younger and lower-income adults.

2008-2012 Selected Trend: U.S. Perception That Today's Youth Will Have a Better Life Than Their Parents, With Demos

Bottom Line

The idea that America offers young people the opportunities necessary to make an even better life for themselves than the one their parents had is often seen as an important part of the American Dream. However, confidence that the current generation will achieve this has been in relatively short supply in recent years, albeit slightly improved in December compared with a year ago.

While Democrats' optimism is relatively high, likely owing to the confidence they have in the Democratic president's leadership, optimism has waned since 2008 among Republicans, older Americans, and those who are more affluent. Nevertheless, the majority of young people and lower-income Americans -- groups arguably the least discouraged by life experience, or most in need of climbing further up the economic ladder than their parents -- are currently the most likely to believe it is possible.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 14-17, 2012, with a random sample of 1,025 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 cellphone 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. Cellphone 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, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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