Mar 26, 2002

From the Archives

Most Americans Satisfied with Life Despite Having Quality of Life Issues

Love of country is more than just a wartime concept for millions of Americans. A new nationwide survey by the Barna Research Group, of Ventura, California, shows that nearly four out of five American adults (78%) are “completely” or “mostly” satisfied with their life these days. Terrorism, war, and economic recession notwithstanding, one out of four adults – equal to some 52 million adults – is “completely satisfied” with their life. The proportion of satisfied individuals is highest among those who are highly educated, highly paid, older, most religious and married with children.

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Pressing Personal Issues

When asked to describe the most pressing challenges and difficulties they face in their life today, one out of five adults said they have no such challenges. Among the four out of five adults who could identify a problem in their life, the most common difficulties related to finances (listed by 28%), health (19%), career concerns (16%)and parenting struggles (11%). Smaller numbers identified problems with family relationships (7%) and accomplishing personal goals (7%) as areas of concern.

The problems of greatest priority varied among demographic segments of the population. For instance, men were much more anxious about career options than were women, while women were nearly twice as likely to mention parenting issues and much more concerned about personal health. Age greatly affected the dominant issues: adults under 35 were most worried about finances and career; Baby Boomers prioritized finances and health; people 55 and older rated health factors as their top worry by a 3-to-1 margin over finances. Racial heritage also affected people’s views. Blacks were the racial group most concerned about finances and the least concerned about parenting. Hispanics were twice as concerned as other racial segments about career or occupational matters. Whites were most likely to prioritize finances or health.

Major National Issues

Adults were much more likely to identify one or more national issues that concern them than they were to list personal concerns. Only 1% of all adults said that there are no national problems or challenges that they find very troubling.

The national issues of the greatest concern were the war and related fears about terrorism (noted by 52%), economic issues such as the strength of the economy, taxes and the cost of living (mentioned by 30%), the moral decline of the nation (19%), unemployment and job issues (15%), and national security (14%). Issues identified less frequently included dissatisfaction with government performance (9%), education (8%), poverty (6%), racism (5%) and health care (4%).

Although there was greater consensus regarding national issues than was evident in relation to personal issues, there were some differences among people groups. Women were more worried about the war and terrorism and the existence of poverty than were men, while men were more focused on economic matters and were more than twice as likely to pick government performance as a trouble spot. Age again emerged as a significant variable. The younger people were, the less concerned they were about the war and terrorism, and the more likely they were to dwell on economic matters.

Race was also a distinguishing attribute. While a majority of whites (54%) and Hispanics (55%) named the war and terrorism as top-rated problems, only one-third of blacks did so. Similarly, whites and Hispanics were twice as likely as blacks to list the economy as a major challenge. Blacks were more than twice as likely as other adults, however, to list poverty and government performance as major issues. Surprisingly, Hispanics were the least likely racial segment to mention poverty and health care; they were the most likely, by a 2-to-1 margin, to list job concerns as a priority.

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Declining Morality Is An Issue

Nearly one out of five adults listed moral decline as a top issue, ranking it third highest among the dozens of issues identified by survey respondents. There was no single aspect or description of moral decline that dominated people’s minds. There were six dimensions of moral demise identified by equivalent proportions of people: substance abuse, crime, violence, spiritual decay, loss of family values, and a general discomfort regarding the moral climate. Although born again Christians were more likely than non-born again adults to cite moral decline as a serious national problem (25% versus 15%, respectively), substantial numbers of non-born again individuals also mentioned the deterioration of America’s moral foundation and behavior as a major worry.

George Barna, whose company conducted the survey, noted that many of the issues often associated with moral decay were not significant to adults. “Five particular issues – homosexuality, abortion, cloning, child abuse and pornography – were each listed by less than one-half of one percent of the public as being among the most serious national issues. Whether this is because people are burned out on these issues, they don’t understand the nature of the underlying concern, or they simply do not care one way or the other, the fact is that such ‘hot button’ issues are hot for a relatively chosen few. Most Americans either yawn or cringe at the mention of those issues.”

The high ranking of moral decline on the issue list is significant, though, in Barna’s eyes. “Although many adults do not have a detailed, passionate view of moral decline, they are aware of a slow but continual and serious eroding of the moral foundations that made the nation great,” he explained. “They feel uncomfortable with the moral direction of the country and are seeking serious moral leadership to restore a sense of balance and propriety to the heart of the nation.”

Changes Over Time

Barna stated that comparing the current data with past surveys uncovered a handful of issues that have been abandoned by the public. “You only have to go back a few years to discover a greater emphasis upon education, crime, drug abuse and foreign aide as major issues. None of those issues are big concerns today. Whereas our view of major issues used to relate to the well-being of the nation and how to improve the national quality of life, our more recent issues of choice tend to reflect national conditions that have very personal impact. Increasingly, Americans are focusing on what the nation must do to enable us as individuals to maximize our life opportunities.”

Barna also pointed out that this drift toward personal needs and concerns has diminished the gap between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, born again Christians and non-born again adults. “Two or three decades ago, there were discernible distinctions between the worldview and personal interests of people from different political and religious perspectives,” the researcher stated. “It is harder than ever to find the igniting issues these days. Perhaps the overwhelming impact of pop culture has infiltrated our views and perceived needs to the point that we are a relatively homogenous society differentiated mostly by the means and rapidity with which we want our personal challenges addressed.”

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Survey Methodology

The survey data described are from telephone interviews during late January and early February with a nationwide random sample of 1006 adults (age 18 or older). The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research Group telephone interviewing facility in Ventura, CA. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. adult population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of adults.

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

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.

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