Seven in 10 Americans believe the nation’s values have declined since 1940, according to The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey, conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland and in partnership with Burson-Marsteller.
Americans say political corruption, increased materialism, declining family values and a celebrity- obsessed culture have contributed to the decline in values. At the same time, Americans largely believe they are more tolerant and open than their parents.
“America’s values are in upheaval, triggered by the advance of technology, prolonged pessimism and a loss of confidence in major social, political, economic and religious institutions,” says Mark Penn, CEO of Burson-Marsteller and Penn Schoen Berland. “While Americans have become far more socially tolerant of different lifestyles, they have become far more cynical about Wall Street, the ability to succeed on one’s own merits, over the future of their children and even the existence of God. America is in many ways unhappy with itself and the pop culture it has become.”
The study also revealed significant unease, especially among the young, with business and with the distribution of wealth in the United States. More than half of Americans think the economic system is unfair to middle and working class Americans. Only 35 percent of younger Americans (ages 18-29) share the view that what is good for business is good for America, compared with 45 percent of middle-aged respondents (ages 45-64) and 61 percent of senior respondents (over 65).
“These findings demonstrate how years of lackluster economic growth have left young Americans with a deep suspicion of our economic system and less certainty that American business is something that will have a positive impact on their lives,” says Don Baer, Burson-Marsteller worldwide vice chairman and chief strategy officer and chairman of Penn Schoen Berland. “It’s very concerning that young Americans seem so wary of American business, just as they are trying to enter and establish themselves in the workforce.”
Other key survey findings include:
• A majority of first generation immigrants and wealthy Americans believe the economic system to be fair, while more than half of working and middle class Americans believe the system is unfair for them. Republicans and Democrats have fundamentally different views on financial success in America, with 62 percent of Democrats believing that the primary reason for financial success is a wealthy family, while an almost identical number of Republicans believe it comes from hard work.
• Regardless of party, Americans are united in their belief that money and lobbyists have too much influence in politics and that elected officials reflect the values of wealthy Americans only.
• Vast majorities from both political parties agree that Wall Street has an entirely different set of values than average Americans and say that the executives who presided over the financial crisis should have gone to prison.
• Americans are more open-minded about a range of issues than they were 10 years ago; more people than ever believe children out of wedlock, homosexuality, divorce, cloning and abortion to be “morally acceptable.”
• Seventy nine percent of Americans think that the decline of the manufacturing industry has had a negative impact on American values.
• Sixty nine percent of Americans believe that healthcare is the responsibility of the government, up from just over half in 2009.
• Seventy six percent of Americans believe that it is more important to focus on their children’s future success vs. making them happy in the moment.
• Americans most frequently name Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Billy Graham as being the individual most representative of American values.