Oct 2, 2019

How Americans really see success

Data: Populace/Gallup Success Index; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Populace/Gallup Success Index; Chart: Axios Visuals

How Americans believe our society measures success — namely, fame — is totally different than how people define success in their own lives, according to a new Gallup/Populace survey of more than 5,000 Americans given first to Axios.

Why it matters: Our measures of personal success are highly individualized, but tend to follow some patterns for women and men, liberals and conservatives, and different levels of income, the survey found.

  • The findings are a roadmap for politicians, the entertainment industry and technology executives seeking to tap into less romanticized measures of success.

"When you aren't saying publicly what you privately believe, you end up with really bad policies and with things that stay in place that nobody really wants. But nobody changes it,” said Todd Rose, president and cofounder of Populace.

  • "Being famous" was the top answer for what respondents thought mattered according to society's view of success.
  • But that was the last answer for what individuals felt was important to achieve to be successful in their own lives.
  • Parenthood was the most common achievement for individuals' standards of success, but ranked at 33 out of 76 when people were asked about things society considers important for success.
  • "Very conservative” Americans tend to consider being a parent twice as important as those who self-identified as "very liberal."
  • Having an advanced degree was something respondents valued both in terms of how society judged them and how they judged themselves.
  • Having a purpose in life, a couple of close friends and regularly seeing family were all important components to how people judged their own success — but so was not having to worry about money.
  • Women were more likely than men to view fame and having a large social media following as important to society's view of success — something that may correlate to other trends like women being overrepresented on Instagram, Rose said.

Between the lines: Milestones and traits related to status, education and finances were at the top of the list for what most people believe others consider markers of success. But people said success in their own lives has more to do with educational achievement, relationships and personal character.

  • "We can do something with that if we can just realize that this silent majority exists, and that it crosses political and ideological and other demographic bounds," Rose said.
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