Jan 3, 2011

From the Archives

Individualism Shines Through Americans’ 2011 New Year’s Resolutions

As the calendar shifts from holiday celebrations to January, a new survey from the Barna Group explores what Americans describe as their New Year’s resolutions. The nationwide survey of 1,022 adults provides a snapshot of people’s personal growth priorities for 2011, when they make such commitments.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

The Role of Resolutions?
Making New Year’s resolutions is a common experience, but Americans report achieving mixed results. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s population (61%) has made New Year’s resolutions at some point in their lives. More than 90 million adults (41%) say they will make such personal pledges in 2011, representing roughly two-fifths of the nation’s population.

Yet, only one out of every five (19%) is “definitely” planning to make resolutions, which may be a reflection of either the half-hearted effort many put forth or a recognition of their past failure to follow through on such goals. When asked to describe their experience with resolutions during 2010, only one out of four Americans (23%) who had made resolutions found those commitments resulted in “significant, long-term change” to their behaviors or attitudes. More commonly, Americans described their 2010 resolutions as resulting in “minor change” (29%) or “no change” (49%).

Another reason people may struggle with keeping their resolutions: they try to achieve personal change on their own. Among those who are making New Year’s resolutions, most said they were not planning on having “accountability or a support system in place” to help them stick with those commitments.

What (or Who) Gets Attention?
When it comes to the types of resolutions people make, Americans not surprisingly focus on self-oriented changes. Among those planning to make resolutions, the top pledges for 2011 relate to weight, diet and health (30%); money, debt and finances (15%); personal improvement (13%); addiction (12%); job and career (5%); spiritual or church-related (5%); and educational (4%). Personal improvement responses included being a better person; giving more; having more personal or leisure time; organizing their life or home; and having a better life in general.

While people concentrate on themselves when making priorities for the New Year, it is telling that so few Americans say they want to improve relationships with others. There were virtually no mentions of volunteering or serving others; only a handful of comments about marriage or parenting; almost no responses focusing on being a better friend; and only a small fraction of people mentioned improving their connection with God.

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, explained these findings: “Only 9 out of more than 1,000 survey respondents – that’s not quite one percent – mentioned that one of their objectives for next year was getting closer to God in some way. Even in the rare instance when people mention spiritual goals, it is often about activity undertaken for God, rather than a personal pursuit of God or an experience with God.”

As further proof of Americans’ self-oriented concerns, Kinnaman pointed out that “virtually none of the survey respondents mentioned anything about becoming more green. Despite the significant attention environmental issues receive, virtually no one connects their New Year’s resolutions with personal responsibility in this area.”

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

Perspectives on Resolutions
Kinnaman put the findings in context: “Americans maintain a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions: millions of people make them, but they rarely report success as a result. This research underscores that most humans want to experience some sort of personal change in their lives, but achieving such objectives is both difficult and uncommon.

“Maybe most problematic, Americans hinge their efforts at personal change by focusing almost exclusively on themselves, rather than realizing that lasting change often comes by serving and sacrificing for others. Churches and faith communities have a significant opportunity to help people identify what makes for transformational change and how to best achieve those objectives – especially by relying on goals and resources beyond their individualism.”

Facts about Resolutions
Younger adults are far more likely than older adults to make resolutions. Perhaps less affected by past failed resolutions, younger adults emerged as far more likely than older adults to make personal commitments for the New Year. Among Mosaics, 44% plan to make at least one resolution for 2011, which was second only to the 51% among Busters (ages 27 to 45). Boomers (ages 46 to 64) and Elders (ages 65-plus) were comparatively unlikely to expect to make any resolutions (39% and 26%, respectively).

Disengaged adults do not bother with resolutions. Those who have never made New Year’s resolutions exhibit a disconnected profile in other areas of life as well: they are likely to be non-voters, unchurched adults, atheists and agnostics, and those never married.

Barna Access Plus

Strengthen your message, train your team and grow your church with cultural insights and practical resources, all in one place.

About the Research
This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted in the OmniPoll℠ (part of the Barna Poll from the Barna Group). This study consisted of a random sample of 1,022 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, December 11 through December 19, 2010. The interviews included 200 among people using cell phones. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.

Elders are those born before 1946; Boomers are the generation born from 1946 to 1964; Busters are individuals born between 1965 and 1983; and Mosaics are adults born 1984 or since.

“Downscale” individuals are those whose annual household income is less than $20,000 and who have not attended college. “Upscale” people are those whose annual household income is $75,000 or more and have graduated from a four-year college.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

Get Barna in your inbox

Subscribe to Barna’s free newsletters for the latest data and insights to navigate today’s most complex issues.