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Americans' Satisfaction and Well-Being At All-Time High Levels

Americans' Satisfaction and Well-Being At All-Time High Levels

A new Gallup poll finds that Americans are generally satisfied and happy with their lives, and that in many instances these levels of well-being are as high as recorded by Gallup in surveys which stretch back four decades to the 1960s


A new Gallup poll finds that Americans are generally satisfied and happy with their lives, and that in many instances these levels of well-being are as high as recorded by Gallup in surveys which stretch back four decades to the 1960s.

Satisfaction with Aspects of Personal Life
The in-depth Gallup Poll Social Audit on "Haves and Have-nots" included a series of questions which asked Americans to rate whether or not they were satisfied with 13 specific aspects of their lives. Although a majority of the public is satisfied with each aspect measured, there is a wide range of variation, from 91% who express satisfaction with family life to 56% claiming satisfaction with their financial net worth or savings.

Other high levels of satisfaction are recorded for Americans' housing situation, health, availability of transportation, and opportunities to succeed in life. At the bottom end of the spectrum, in addition to net worth and savings, relatively lower levels of satisfaction are registered for Americans' leisure time and household income.

Eight of these satisfaction dimensions have been tracked across time, and the current readings of most are at the high end of their historical range. There are two exceptions, however, that show decreases in satisfaction over time: "your job, or the work you do," which is 15 percentage points below its high point of 90% recorded in 1969, and "the amount of leisure time you have," which is currently 12 percentage points below its highest level of 76%.

There are several interesting aspects to Americans' ratings of the amount of leisure time they have. For one thing, perhaps not surprisingly, satisfaction with the amount of one's leisure time skyrockets at retirement. Only 55% percent of employed adults express satisfaction with this dimension, compared with 95% of those who are retired. The leisure time question is also notable for being the only one in the set of questions that is negatively related to measures of socioeconomic status, both objective (income and education) and subjective (shape of personal finances). Americans with higher socioeconomic status and optimism about their personal finances are least satisfied with the availability of leisure time.

General Measures of Well-Being
Another satisfaction dimension included in the Gallup poll study is a relatively general one-"The way things are going in your personal life." Fully 85% of Americans express satisfaction in response to this question. Historically, this measure has been quite stable: measured 43 times over the past two decades, it has never exceeded 87% nor dropped below the level of 73% reached in July of 1979.

Gallup asked two other questions intended to provide a broad assessment of Americans' feelings of personal well-being. The first is a simple question, asking respondents whether, generally speaking, they are "very," "fairly," or "not too" happy. Forty-five percent claim to be "very happy," while another 50% say they are "fairly happy." This combined total of over 90% claiming to be very or fairly happy is generally consistent with measurements recorded by Gallup stretching back to 1948.

The second measure of general well-being is based on a set of three questions developed by survey pioneer Hadley Cantril and asked by Gallup eight times since the early 1960s. The questions ask respondents to imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from zero (the lowest step) to ten (the highest). The bottom step is described as representing "the worst possible life for you," and the top step as representing "the best possible life for you." Respondents are first asked on which step "you feel you personally stand at the present time." Using the same scale, respondents are then asked on which step of the ladder they stood five years ago and, finally, on which step they expect to stand five years into the future.

When asked on which step they stand at the present time, 44% of Americans place themselves on one of the top three steps, 80% place themselves above the middle step, another 13% place themselves directly on the middle step, and only 7% place themselves on steps zero to four.

Americans are even more positive when they assess their future, with 72% saying that they will stand on steps eight, nine, or ten five years into the future. At the same time, Americans are much less positive when they look back, with only 26% saying that they stood on one of the top three steps five years ago.

Current ratings-both of one's present position and of one's anticipated position five years into the future-are at all-time highs, well above any ratings previously recorded by Gallup (at eight different points in time spanning 34 years). Ratings of one's position five years ago have been stable - and low -- over the historical period beginning in 1964.

Survey Methods
The results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 5,001 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 23-May 31, 1998. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus 2 percentage points. 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.

Please tell me whether you are generally satisfied or dissatisfied with each of the following. How about (read and rotate a-m)?

98 Apr 23-May 31
No opinion
a. Your standard of living
(semi final)
78 22 *
b. Your family or household income 70 29 1
c. Your housing situation 86 14 *
d.Your job or the work you do 75 16 9
e. The future facing you and your family 76 20 4
f. Your family life 91 9 *
g. The amount of leisure time you have 64 36 *
h. Your health today 86 14 -
i. Your level of education 74 26 -
j. Your safety from physical harm or violence 78 21 1
k. The availability of convenient transportation when needed 85 14 1
l. The opportunities you have had to succeed in life 84 15 1
m. Your financial savings 56 43 1

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