Effort vs. luck: What do Americans think dictates success?

Christien PhebyContent Manager
May 27, 2021, 4:16 PM UTC

When Americans are asked whether they think success is a matter of individual effort or good fortune, a third say effort plays a bigger role (35%) – while three in ten say it’s equal measures of effort and good fortune (31%), and a quarter (25%) say that luck is more influential.

When asked to apply this to their personal circumstances, however, they’re much more likely to believe their current success – or lack thereof – is down to their individual effort. Half of Americans say their current wealth (48%) has more to do with factors like hard work and being responsible, while just 16% say it has more to do with luck. The idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps to achieve success clearly retains some power.

This is truer for some Americans than others. Republicans, for example, are more likely to believe that their personal wealth is a matter of personal effort (56% saying effort; 11% fortune), while Democrats are less keen on the idea (37% saying effort; 20% fortune). But current wealth is a similarly effective predictor in this area: three in five Americans earning over $100k (61%) say they got their money and assets through individual striving, while just over a third of those earning under $30k (36%) say the same.

Wealth is not entirely a matter of salary, of course, but overall, Americans who make more money are more likely to think they’ve done it through individual struggle – and Americans who make less are more likely to think it’s mostly because of bad luck and unfavorable circumstances.

Methodology

YouGov polled 1200 US adults online on May 20, 2021 between 18:15 and 20:42 BST. The survey was carried out through YouGov Direct. Data is weighted by age, gender, education level, political affiliation, and ethnicity. Results are nationally representative of adults in the United States. The margin of error is 4.0% for the overall sample. Learn more about YouGov Direct.

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