Many Americans say the words “I’m sorry” throughout the day, when they haven’t done anything to be apologetic for. A recent YouGov survey finds that among younger adults, people's impulse to say “I’m sorry” in response to someone else's woes or other situations outside their control is seen as empathetic more often than annoying, but among older Americans, the opposite is the case.
One-quarter (24%) of Americans say they apologize for things outside of their control at least daily, including 11% who say they do this several times per day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 16% of U.S. adults say they never apologize for things outside of their control.
Younger Americans are more frequently apologetic than older ones for things out of their control. Among members of Generation Z (born 2000 and later), 18% say they apologize for something beyond their control several times per day and 24% say they do so daily. One-third (32%) of Millennials (born 1982-1999) apologize in that way at least daily; 22% of Gen Xers (1965-1981) and just 10% of Baby Boomers (1946-1964) do, as well.
(Generation Z is made up of people born in 2000 or later; Millennials were born between 1982 and 1999; members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1981; and Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964. Data on members of the Silent Generation is not reflected in charts or copy because data on this group is typically limited. These definitions of the birth years of members of each generation differ from Pew Research Center’s and others; there is no single official definition.)
Men and women are equally likely to say they apologize several times per day for things that are outside their control (10% of men vs. 11% of women), daily (12% vs. 14%), weekly (17% for both), monthly (9% vs. 8%) and less often than monthly (21% for both). There is a slight difference in the share of men (18%) and women (13%) who say they never apologize for something outside of their control.
People who say religion is very important in their life are particularly likely to say they apologize several times per day for something outside of their control, at 15%. Among people who say religion is somewhat important, not too important, or not at all important, about half as many (8%) do this.
Among Americans who attend religious services more than once a week, 24% say they apologize for things out of their control several times per day, and 17% do this daily. People who attend church once a week are less likely to apologize several times per day (10%) or daily (14%). Among people who never attend church, 8% say they apologize several times per day and 11% say they do so daily.
Only 8% of people attending multiple religious services per week say they never apologize for things out of their control. Among people who never attend church, 22% say they never do this.
Saying “I’m sorry” for a situation outside of your control strikes some people as empathetic, while others find it annoying.
One-third (34%) of U.S. adults think it’s more empathetic than annoying when someone does this, while 26% find it to be more annoying. Another 28% say it is neither particularly empathetic nor irritating, and 12% are not sure.
Gen Z’ers (50%) and millennials (45%) are more likely than Gen X’ers (30%) and Baby Boomers (19%) to say it’s more empathetic than annoying.
Men are slightly more likely than women to say this behavior is more empathetic than annoying (35% vs. 32%), though they’re also more likely to say it’s more annoying than empathetic (29% vs. 23%). That’s because women are more likely than men to classify it as neither empathetic nor annoying (31% vs. 25%) and also slightly more likely to be unsure (14% vs. 11%).
Among members of Generation X, men (29%) are more likely than women (21%) to find it more annoying than empathetic. Baby Boomers have a similar gap, with 33% of men and 26% of women saying it’s more annoying than empathetic for someone to apologize for things outside their control.
Most Americans (62%) think that saying “I’m sorry” too frequently can diminish the sincerity of a genuine apology. Men (64%) are slightly more likely than women (59%) to believe this is the case.
There are some generational and gender differences in whether frequent apologizing can diminish the sincerity of a genuine apology. Among adults who are millennials or older, men are more likely than women to say overly frequent apologizing diminishes the sincerity of a genuine apology. Men of Generation X (68%) are more likely than women (61%) of the same generation to say this is true; among Baby Boomers, 75% of men and 67% of women agree.
— Linley Sanders, Taylor Orth, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article
Methodology: This Daily Questions survey was conducted online on April 11 - 12, 2023 among 9,594 U.S. adults. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, U.S. census region, and political party.
See the results of this poll:
- How often do you apologize for things that are outside of your control?
- Do you think that saying "I'm sorry" too frequently can diminish the sincerity of a genuine apology?
- Do you think it's more empathetic or more annoying when someone apologizes for things that are outside of their control?
Image: Adobe Stock (deagreez)