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Views of Opportunity in U.S. Improve, but Lag the Past
Politics

Views of Opportunity in U.S. Improve, but Lag the Past

Views of Opportunity in U.S. Improve, but Lag the Past

Story Highlights

  • 54% believe it is likely today's youth can live better than their parents
  • Up from 44% in 2011, but still below 66% from early 2008
  • 70% say there is plenty of opportunity in U.S. to get ahead

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Fifty-four percent of Americans believe it is likely that today's young people will have a better life than their parents. While still down from 66% in early 2008, the current figure shows continued improvement from the low point of 44% in April 2011.

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The latest results are based on a June 14-23 Gallup poll. Americans' optimism about young people being able to live better than their parents dampened only slightly during the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. More substantial declines occurred in late 2010 and early 2011, after the unemployment rate had been 9.0% or higher for over a year.

By December 2012, with the unemployment rate back below 8.0%, Americans started to show renewed optimism about future generations' economic opportunities.

The question was asked before 2008 by other polling organizations. During the economic boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a high of 71% of Americans believed it was likely young people would live better than their parents, according to a July 1999 New York Times poll. That figure was matched in a December 2001 CBS News/New York Times poll conducted a few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The question was first asked by the Roper Organization in January 1983, another time of high unemployment. At that time, 54% said it was likely young people could live better than their parents, the same level as today.

Seven in 10 Say There Is "Plenty of Opportunity" in the U.S.

Americans are also more optimistic now than in recent years about how much opportunity there is in the U.S. Seven in 10 Americans say there is "plenty of opportunity" in the U.S. today for anyone who wants to work hard and get ahead, up from just over half in 2011 and 2013. However, while those attitudes have improved significantly, fewer today say there is plenty of opportunity than did so in 1998 (81%).

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Republicans Less Optimistic About Youth Living Better Than Parents

Predictions of whether young people will be able to live better than their parents are similar across key U.S. subgroups, including by age, education level, employment status and household income. Views differ significantly across partisan groups, however, with 68% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, but only 41% of Republicans and Republican leaners, saying it is likely today's youth will have a better life than their parents.

Both party groups were less optimistic in 2011 than they are today, and both have shown similar improvements since that time. In the January 2008 poll, when Republican George W. Bush was still president, Republicans were slightly more optimistic than Democrats. These party trends, to some degree, reflect the way Republicans' and Democrats' assessments of conditions in the country are influenced by the party of the president.

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In contrast, Republicans (70%) and Democrats (71%) are about equally likely to believe there is plenty of opportunity in the U.S. for those who want to get ahead. There were only modest differences between the party groups in 2013, when Americans were less positive about the ability of people to get ahead. At that time, 58% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans thought there was plenty of opportunity in the U.S.

Implications

A common theme in each party's presidential campaigns this year has been that Americans, particularly those in the middle class, are losing ground and do not have as bright a future as they used to. While Americans are less optimistic about economic opportunity today than they have been at times in the past, that optimism has been increasing rather than decreasing in recent years. The majority of Americans once again believe it is likely today's young people will have a better life than their parents did, and nearly seven in 10 believe ample opportunity to advance exists for those in the U.S. who want to work hard. For Americans' faith in economic opportunity to be fully restored to previous heights, it may necessitate a stronger economic recovery than has occurred to date, and renewed faith in major U.S. institutions.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 14-23, 2016, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The two questions reported here were asked of randomly determined half-samples of approximately 500 respondents each. For results based on these samples of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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