Parents in America, as elsewhere, traditionally have been concerned with one big thing when it comes to their children: That their kids’ lives should be better than the preceding generation’s. And for decades, that optimism was a given. But now, people are not so sure, a new I&I/TIPP Poll suggests.
Based on a growing body of evidence, both from the news and from a spate of recent studies and research, America’s parents, grandparents, teachers and others who make up the adult world today share a deep angst over how well their kids will do in the future.
To find out how pervasive this feeling is, the online I&I/TIPP Poll of 1,365 adults, taken from March 29-31, asked Americans a straightforward question: “How likely do you think today’s youth will have a better life than their parents?”
Of those responding, just 43% answered that it was likely that today’s kids would have better lives, with 21% saying it was “very likely” and 22% saying “somewhat likely.” And 8% said they weren’t sure.
Meanwhile, 49% took the more pessimistic view, calling it “unlikely” that today’s kids would do better than their parents. That includes 33% who said “somewhat” unlikely and 16% who said “very” unlikely.
But where the responses really get interesting is in the breakdowns by race, income and political affiliation, which suggest that Americans inhabit, at least mentally, two very different countries.
Start with political parties. Democrats (59% “likely”) were far more optimistic about America’s youth doing better than the preceding generation than either Republicans (28%) or independents (30%).
The big shocker is that, when broken down by age, younger respondents don’t share their parents and grandparents pessimism over their future.
For those in the 18-24 year old group, 51% said it was likely they’d do better than their parents. That number jumped to 62% among those aged 25-44 years, the dropped sharply to 31% for the 45-64 year age group and a downright depressing 26% for those 65 years and older.
Race was another major split, but perhaps not how you might expect. African-Americans and Hispanics by 57% (likely) to 36% (unlikely) were highly optimistic about the future of youth, despite much gloomy reporting by the media.
At the same time, whites were among the most pessimistic of groups, with only 36% expecting the lives of the following generation to be better. A sizable 55% called a better life “unlikely” for today’s youth.
Finally, there was a surprisingly substantial difference between men and women in how they answered the question. Only 33% of women said it’s “likely” that tomorrow would be better for today’s kids, versus 53% of men, a real gender gap.
While this poll question might seem simple and innocuous, in fact it uncovers the underlying social and political schisms we’re experiencing in society today. Anxiety over the future translates to potential political action.
One major cause for the pessimism about kids is schools, where children spend much of their time each day and which have come under heavy criticism in recent years.
Education spending has risen sharply, but not kids’ test scores. Reformers argue that the heavy hand of teachers’ unions has for years made meaningful changes in schools nearly impossible. That was particularly evident during the COVID lockdowns, embraced by the unions, which created a lost generation of education-deprived students and dropouts.
It’s become worse in recent years as woke schools have pushed an overtly leftist agenda that, to many parents, seems to encourage nihilism, self-hatred and an open disdain for their country. This has created a widening, often-angry partisan split over what to do, leading to further gloom about kids’ futures.
Recent moves by states to create more school choice and vouchers might help parents feel better about the next generation’s prospects. In early 2023 alone, some 33 states put forward legislation to create greater school choice. The idea has strong momentum.
But K-12 schools aren’t the only issue.
Colleges and universities, created to help students build critical thinking skills and master basic subject knowledge in a wide number of intellectual disciplines, are no better. Major endowed universities also have been taken over by a generation of woke scholars and administrators who see their mission as to propagandize students, not to teach them.
The result: A generation increasingly unprepared for the unpredictable challenges that lie ahead is also among the most heavily indebted to emerge from higher education, with a total of $1.8 trillion in student debt outstanding, or about $29,000 per student – and climbing. Many will graduate with a mountain of debt that they will be paying off for the rest of their working lives.
How can the children of the latest generation sprint past their parents if they’re weighted down with debt?
Add to this a host of troubling social issues stemming from a proliferation of single-parent families, rampant drug use, an average of six hours a day spent on internet social media or gaming sites, and a growing generational sense of anomie as religion, American cultural beliefs, history and even the U.S.’ very founding and Constitution come under sharp attack by “critical race theory” activists.
Will anyone thrive in such a poisoned atmosphere?
Looming over all of this are concerns that America has lost its way and is starting to lag other countries in education and, therefore, in its ability to create jobs and growth for the next generation.
I&I/TIPP is not alone in its findings. Other polls show similar results. And it’s a global phenomenon, not just here in the U.S. With few exceptions, everyone is concerned about the next generation. Now, what will we do about it?
I&I/TIPP publishes timely, unique, and informative data each month on topics of public interest. TIPP’s reputation for polling excellence comes from being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is an editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.
Hey, want to dig deeper? Download data from our store for a small fee!
Like our insights? Show your support by becoming a paid subscriber!
Want to show your appreciation? Donate