Social Trends: Americans See Less Progress on Their Ladder of Life

Source Organization: Pew Research Center

09/14/2006 - In the past four years, some of the edge has come off good old American optimism.

Just under half (49%) of the respondents in a new Pew Research Center survey rate the quality of the life they expect to be leading five years from now higher than their current quality of life. As recently as 2002, more than six-in-ten (61%) Americans said their future would be better than their present.

The new survey also finds that a quarter of adults rate their life five years from now the same as they rate their current life, while just 12% rate the future worse (the remaining 14% say they aren't sure). Thus, looking at only the "worse" and "better" ratings, Americans continue to tilt heavily positive -- by a ratio of four-to-one -- in their outlook about the future.

Even so, the downturn in personal optimism since 2002 is the sharpest recorded in the more than 40 years that both Pew and the Gallup organization have been conducting this "ladder of life" survey.

In the 2006 Pew survey, as in all previous surveys in this series, Americans rate the present above the past and the future above the present. However, taking into account all three sets of ratings (past, present, future), Americans are on average about one-third less upbeat about the trajectory of their lives now than they were in 1999, at the height of a prolonged economic boom.

The telephone survey was conducted from June 20 through July 16, 2006 among a nationally representative sample of 2,003 adults. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Read the full report Americans See Less Progress on Their Ladder of Life on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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