Americans’ Satisfaction With the Opportunity for the Next Generation of Americans to Live Better Than Their Parents , May 2012

The idea of America as a place where citizens can rise above their economic position at birth depends partly on an economic system that rewards people based on effort and merit — not race, class, title, or other social barriers — and partly on Americans’ willingness to make a serious effort to succeed. Americans themselves currently have doubts about both aspects of that equation.

Fifty percent of U.S. adults are satisfied with “the opportunity for a poor person in this nation to get ahead by working hard”; 48% are dissatisfied. Satisfaction with “Americans’ willingness to work hard to better themselves” is similarly mixed, with 52% satisfied and 45% dissatisfied.

Americans of all ages have similar perceptions about the existence of merit-based opportunity in the country, with about half of each age group saying they are satisfied with it. However, young and middle-aged adults are a bit less positive than are those 55 and older about Americans’ willingness to work hard to better themselves.