Political divisions are biggest generational threat to American teens

Fewer teens say now is a good time to be growing up than in 2005.

The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Annaleise Azevedo Lohr Director, US, Public Affairs
Get in touch

Washington, DC, August 25, 2021 — A recent Washington Post – Ipsos poll shows that many teens (ages 14 -18 years old) are generally more pessimistic about the state of the country and future opportunities than they were 16 years ago, in 2005. American teens and their parents hold similar perceptions of the country and the value of a four-year degree. Despite a lack of optimism about the current state of affairs, many are confident they will have a good standard of living as adults.

Detailed findings:

1. More than half of teens say that America’s best years might be behind us (56%), up 15 percentage points from 2005 (41%).

  • However, a majority of teens say that the United States is one of the greatest countries in the world (52%) and 23% say the U.S. is above all other countries in the world. Their parents hold similar perceptions, with 59% saying the U.S. is one of the best countries in the world, and 25% saying the U.S. is above all other countries in the world.
  • About three in five teens say that political divisions are a major threat to their generation (59%), the largest proportion of any item asked.
  • Racial discrimination, the cost of healthcare, and gun violence (all 57%) are also seen as societal problems that are a major threat to their generation.

2. Teens are split on whether right now is a good or bad time to be growing up – 48% report they believe it is a good time for teenagers to be growing up, and 51% say it is a bad time.

  • In 2005, teens asked the same question were much more likely to say it is a good time to be growing up (63%) than a bad time (31%).
  • Today’s teens’ parents are more pessimistic than their children, with 62% saying it is a bad time to be growing up, compared to 37% who say it is a good time.

3. About three in five teens say that earning a four-year degree is worth the cost (58%).

  • A similar number of their parents agree that a four-year college degree is worth the cost (59%).
  • Ninety-three percent of teens say that being successful in their career is very important, and 82% say that graduating from college is important.

4. About nine in ten teens believe it is likely they will achieve a good standard of living as an adult (90%), and just fewer than half say they will have better opportunities than their parents (46%).

  • Sixteen percent say they will have worse opportunities and 37% say their opportunities will be about the same.
  • Ninety-five percent of teens say that having enough free time to do the things you want to do is important to them personally.

About the Study

This poll was jointly sponsored and funded by The Washington Post and Ipsos. The poll includes a random sample of 1,349 teens between the ages of 14 and 18 in the United States, as well as 1,284 of their parents and guardians. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

The questionnaire was administered with the exact questions in the exact order as they appear in this document. Demographic questions are not shown. If a question was asked of a reduced base of the sample, a parenthetical preceding the question identifies the group asked. Phrases surrounded by parentheticals within questions indicate clauses that were randomly rotated for respondents.

Ipsos conducted sampling, interviewing and tabulation for the survey using the KnowledgePanel®, a representative panel of adults age 18 and over living in the United States. KnowledgePanel members are recruited through probability sampling methods using address-based sampling. Panel members who do not have internet access are provided with a tablet and internet service. Teens were reached through their parents. Additional interviews were collected using a sample drawn from Ipsos’s YouthPulse panel and the SSRS Probability Panel. The YouthPulse and SSRS Probability Panel are also probability-based web panels designed to be representative of the United States. Parental consent was obtained at the time of panel recruitment and teens surveyed through the YouthPulse panel were contacted directly. For the SSRS Probability Panel, 18 year-olds were contacted directly while teens ages 14 through 17 were reached through their parents.

This survey uses statistical weighting procedures to account for deviations in the survey sample from known population characteristics, which helps correct for differential survey participation and random variation in samples. The overall sample was weighted to match the demographic makeup of general population teens age 14 to 18 by sex, region, age, race/ethnicity, and household income according to the Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, and to residence in a metropolitan area according to the 2020 March Supplement of the Current Population Survey.

The margin of sampling error for the samples of teens and parents are plus or minus three percentage points. For results based on other subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher. Note that sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll.

All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.4. The design effect is a factor representing the survey’s deviation from a simple random sample and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures. Surveys that do not incorporate a design effect overstate their precision.

The Washington Post is a charter member of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative.

About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest Insights and Analytics company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

ISIN code FR0000073298, Reuters ISOS.PA, Bloomberg IPS:FP www.ipsos.com


The author(s)

  • Chris Jackson Senior Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Annaleise Azevedo Lohr Director, US, Public Affairs