John Steinbeck famously articulated the idea of the “temporarily embarrassed capitalist”; a person who, whatever their current economic status, considered themselves a future millionaire-in-waiting.
Data from YouGov Direct suggests that people do, on the whole, think they’re going to get wealthier over the course of their lives: half of Americans (48%) say they’re going to accumulate more capital, while one in five (19%) believe they’re going to become “much richer”. Three in ten think their circumstances are likely to remain stagnant (31%), while just 16% say they’re going to become poorer.
To a degree, it’s true that the rich are more likely to expect to get richer and the less well-off are more likely to expect a decline. Three in five Americans earning over $100k in gross personal income anticipate that they’ll become wealthier (62%), next to just over two in five of those earning under 50k (43%).
And while recent studies have indicated that a university degree is not as economically useful as it once was, there’s evidence that education plays a major role in people’s expectations of their future wealth. College-educated people are 21 percentage points more likely to think they’ll accumulate more capital and assets (69%), next to just a third of people with a high-school education (34%).
Still, both groups are about as likely to expect their personal wealth to decline over the rest of their lives (15%).
On a comparative level, Americans are generally more likely to say that their level of wealth is the same or greater than that of their friends (52%). When we break this down further, though, just 18% say they’re richer – while twice as many believe they have less money (36%).
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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