The Future Has Seen Better Days

As the Pew Research Center notes in the title of a new report, “Once Again, the Future Ain’t What It Used to Be.” Too true. People’s outlook on the future is often a function of the way they see current conditions. Amid the tribulations of the current decade, the idea that today’s children will inhabit a better world when they grow up has fallen on hard times (see chart below). Polling in the late ’90s—amid the stock market boom and before 9/11—found a majority of respondents forecasting a brighter future for kids growing up. Then again, “A dozen years ago, people had roughly the same negative view that they have now.” In the current poll, women were more likely than men to say today’s kids will be worse off when they grow up (53 percent vs. 47 percent). There was a negligible difference of opinion between whites and blacks, but the “worse off” vote was significantly lower among Hispanics (40 percent). People with household income of $100,000-plus were evenly split, with 42 percent saying “better off” and the same number saying “worse off.” The split was 52 percent “worse” vs. 32 percent “better” in the under-$30,000 bracket. A breakdown of the data by age makes one suspect a bleak view of the future reflects a rosy view of the past. “Better” beat “worse” by 45 percent to 40 percent among those age 18-29. But in the 65-plus cohort, “worse” trounced “better” by 54 percent to 27 percent. Do you suppose people are reluctant to believe the world will be a better place after they’ve left the party?