Majorities in Wealthy Countries Say Children Will Be Financially Worse Off

A decisive majority of adults in advanced economies around the world say the children in their countries will be financially worse off as adults than themselves, according to a survey that shows an overall improved view of countries’ economies.

Those are among the findings in the study released on Wednesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The survey was conducted from Feb. 1 to March 26 in 17 industrialized economies in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

The survey responses are clearly tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created the most widespread global recession since the end of World War II and laid bare structural inequities in wealthy economies.

“What we show in this report is that there’s a relationship of … how you think the economy is doing,” said Shannon Schumacher, research associate at Pew. “If you think that your government handled COVID poorly, both overall, as well as economic response, you’re more likely to say the economy is bad than good. That’s interesting because it tells us a little bit about what’s happening during these ‘Corona-times’.”

[GLOBAL SURVEY: Countries Seen as the Best For Raising Children]

The survey interviewed 2,596 people in the United States from Feb. 1 to Feb. 7, and another 16,254 adults in 16 countries from March 12 to May 26. People were interviewed in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

A median of 64% of the 18,850 people surveyed in the countries said children will face a financially worse adulthood than their parents. Pessimism about children’s futures was strongest in France and Japan, where 77% of respondents said children’s adult lives will be financially worse off than their parents’ generation. In the United States, 68% of respondents said children will be worse off than their parents.

Optimism existed only in Singapore and in Sweden, where 50% or more of the survey respondents said children will be financially better off than their parents’ generation.

But the Pew survey also pointed to long-standing doubts over children’s economic futures in leading economies. In the U.S., for example, the 68% of adults who said their children will be financially worse off than their parents is just an eight-percentage point increase from 2019, the year before the pandemic, and only a six-percentage point increase from 2013, according to Pew’s data. The survey also found that American respondents of all political leanings expressed pessimism about the future of children.

In France and Japan, the 77% who said their children will face a worse economic future is actually a two-percentage point improvement from 2019. And in Sweden and the U.K., pessimism about the financial futures of their children was found to be at its lowest point since Pew began asking the question.

“What we do see in this report … is that there is a relationship between how people think about their children’s future and what they think about the current economic situation,” Schumacher said.

Global health researchers published an article in The Lancet in July of last year urging countries to put the safety and well-being of children at the center of their recovery plans. Doing so, the researchers said, will benefit societies at large.

In a report for the Brookings Institution initially published a year ago and updated last December, economics professors Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine forecast the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a substantial decline in U.S. births in 2021 — possibly as great as 300,000.

Differing Views on Health of Economy

In the annual U.S. News Best Countries global survey, conducted this past winter and into the early weeks of 2021, 89% of the more than 17,000 respondents said the pandemic had severely hurt their country’s economy.

This past spring, economists began forecasting a worldwide economic recovery in both wealthy and developing countries. The Pew survey, however, found wider differences of opinion about the health of national economies, including stark regional differences. The survey, conducted as vaccination efforts intensified and businesses began reopening, found an overall median of 52% of respondents saying the current situation for their national economy was bad.

Pew’s Schumacher noted this year’s survey showed a substantial overall increase in respondents’ optimism about the economy compared to a year ago, as the pandemic reached into every country on the planet. But she also noted respondents remain largely pessimistic about their country’s economy.

More than half of respondents in 10 of the 17 countries surveyed said the economic situation was bad, including 71% in the U.S. A majority of pessimistic responses were also found in Canada, Japan, South Korea, Belgium, France, the U.K. and the Southern European countries of Greece, Italy and Spain.

By contrast, optimism about their national economies was found in Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany in Europe, and Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan across the Asia-Pacific.

The Pew survey also found that women were more likely than men to say their country’s economic situation was bad. However, the study found no significant differences in views based on age or education.

The Pew study also found a majority of respondents in the U.S., Japan and many European countries were critical of their economic system’s ability to handle shocks on the scale that the pandemic unleashed.

More from U.S. News

Global Economy Set for a Post-Pandemic Boom

Global Survey: Best Countries For Raising Children

The 25 Best Countries in the World

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