We found that Americans are both more likely to think the odds are stacked against them and that they can improve their lives through hard work. Half of Americans say they agree that the system is stacked against people like them, compared to 44% of Europeans who think the same. On a country level, among the top 6 EU countries, only Italians (57%) agreed with the first statement more than Americans. Germans were least likely to agree that the system worked against them (39%), and were most likely to outright disagree with the statement (27%).
Despite feeling like the underdog, Americans are also more likely to have the perception that they can change their lives by virtue of hard work: 84% of Americans agreed that “if I work hard, I can improve my life”. Only 6% of Americans disagreed with the statement. In contrast, 65% of Europeans agreed and 16% disagreed with the statement.
It turns out perceptions of social mobility actually have very tangible effects on our actions as well. Psychologists Martin Day and Susan Fiske from Princeton University recently conducted research that found “people who think Americans have ample opportunities to change their place in society are more likely to defend the status quo than those who think people are mostly stuck in their current place”. They also found that increasing awareness of the reality of low social mobility (through assigned readings in their experiment) reduced participants’ desire to defend the current system.
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