December 7, 2022


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What Makes Life Significant? Views From 17 Superior Economies

What Makes Life Significant? Views From 17 Superior Economies

Household is preeminent for many publics however work, materials 
well-being and well being additionally play a key position

What do individuals worth in life? How a lot of what provides individuals satisfaction of their lives is key and shared throughout cultures, and the way a lot is exclusive to a given society? To grasp these and different points, Pew Analysis Middle posed an open-ended query in regards to the that means of life to just about 19,000 adults throughout 17 superior economies. 

For this report, we carried out nationally consultant Pew Analysis Middle surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to Could 26, 2021, in 16 superior economies. All surveys have been carried out over the cellphone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Responses are weighted to be consultant of the grownup inhabitants in every public. Respondents in these publics have been requested the next open-ended query: “We’re fascinated about exploring what it means to stay a satisfying life. What points of your life do you at the moment discover significant, fulfilling or satisfying?” Responses have been transcribed by interviewers within the language by which the interviews have been carried out.

In america, we surveyed 2,596 adults from Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everybody who took half within the U.S. survey is a member of the Middle’s American Developments Panel (ATP), an internet survey panel that’s recruited by nationwide, random sampling of residential addresses. This fashion almost all adults have an opportunity of choice. The survey is weighted to be consultant of the U.S. grownup inhabitants by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, training and different classes. Within the U.S., respondents have been requested a barely longer model of the identical query: “We’re fascinated about exploring what it means to stay a satisfying life. Please take a second to mirror in your life and what makes it really feel worthwhile – then reply the query under as thoughtfully as you possibly can. What about your life do you at the moment discover significant, fulfilling or satisfying? What retains you going and why?”

Researchers examined random samples of English responses, machine-translated non-English responses and responses translated by knowledgeable translation agency to inductively develop a codebook for the principle sources of that means talked about throughout the 17 publics. The codebook was iteratively improved through follow coding and calculations of intercoder reliability till a closing choice of 20 codes was formally adopted (see Appendix C). 

To use the codebook to the complete assortment of 18,850 responses, a workforce of Pew Analysis Middle coders {and professional} translators have been skilled to code English and non-English responses, respectively. Coders in each teams coded random samples and have been evaluated for consistency and accuracy. They have been requested to independently code responses solely after reaching an appropriate threshold for intercoder reliability. (For extra on this, see Appendix A.) 

Right here is the query used for the report, together with the coded responses for every public. Open-ended responses have been flippantly edited for readability (and, in some circumstances, translated into English by knowledgeable agency). Extra particulars about our worldwide survey methodology and country-specific pattern designs are obtainable right here. For respondents within the U.S., learn extra in regards to the ATP’s methodology right here.

From analyzing individuals’s solutions, it’s clear that one supply of that means is predominant: household. In 14 of the 17 superior economies surveyed, extra point out their household as a supply of that means of their lives than some other issue. Highlighting their relationships with dad and mom, siblings, youngsters and grandchildren, individuals incessantly point out high quality time spent with their kinfolk, the satisfaction they get from the accomplishments of their family members and even the need to stay a life that leaves an improved world for his or her offspring. In Australia, New Zealand, Greece and america, round half or extra say their household is one thing that makes their lives fulfilling. 

What Makes Life Significant? Views From 17 Superior Economies

“Crucial factor for me is figure. I feel it is rather essential to construct my profession, to construct my life, in order that I’m doing higher and higher. And the best way to do this is to take plenty of private accountability and work arduous.” –Man, 25, Netherlands

Publics are additionally largely united within the relative emphasis positioned on careers and occupations. Jobs are one of many high three sources of that means for individuals in most locations surveyed. Nonetheless, the emphasis positioned on them can range broadly, from a excessive of 43% in Italy to a low of 6% in South Korea. And though in Italy as many cite their occupation as cite their household as a supply of that means, in locations just like the U.S., solely round a 3rd as many cite their careers. Whereas some particularly describe their careers and what’s significant about them – e.g., a cybersecurity employee who enjoys seeing his contributions in follow or a trainer who enjoys serving to to tell youngsters about historical past – others extra generically point out having fun with their work or their colleagues or feeling intellectually challenged.

Family, careers and material well-being are among the most cited factors for what makes life meaningful

Many additionally spotlight the significance of getting one’s fundamental monetary wants met – and even having some degree of luxurious – to be able to lead a significant life. In 9 of the 17 publics surveyed, materials well-being is among the high three elements individuals cited and, in most locations, round one-in-five or extra point out it. In South Korea, it even emerges because the high supply of that means. Nonetheless, the approach to life parts respondents cite run the gamut from “meals on the desk” and “a roof over my head” to “an honest earnings to help my household” and “no debt” to “sufficient cash” to get pleasure from using bikes or different actions like journey.

“Being snug and secure with fundamental wants (meals, shelter, well being care and public training for my little one) and just a little additional (perhaps going out to dinner or a trip).” –Girl, 51, U.S. 

Well being, too, is comparatively high of thoughts, developing as one of many high three sources of that means for individuals in round a 3rd of the locations surveyed. Nonetheless, the relative emphasis on well being can range broadly, from 48% who point out it in Spain – making it the highest supply of that means for Spaniards – to solely 6% who say the identical in Taiwan. For some, particular well being issues trigger them to worth their well being – corresponding to one American lady who famous, “God gave me life, He pulled me by most cancers. Life is treasured and we solely have one likelihood at it.” Others extra typically be aware well being as a prerequisite for different sources of that means, emphasizing “being wholesome” or “nonetheless respiration” as a part of a listing of issues they worth. Train and a wholesome way of life are additionally touted as sources of that means.

Notably, for many, this emphasis on well being will not be tied on to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though there’s a widespread sense in most publics surveyed that the worldwide pandemic has modified individuals’s lives, in most locations, individuals who point out well being as one thing that provides them that means are not any extra prone to point out COVID-19 than those that don’t prioritize well being. Some individuals who point out each accomplish that as a result of they’ve well being issues which have been compounded by the illness, inflicting further issue. One American described her scenario within the following manner: “At the moment, being self-quarantined as a result of well being points and to stay away from COVID, God is what retains me going,” whereas one other described their predicament as “years of private work to beat nervousness and melancholy [that] took a success with social distancing.” 

Nonetheless, others who point out each well being and COVID-19 of their responses are largely appreciative of their well being as a result of of the worldwide pandemic. One American lady summarized her expertise as: “I had COVID and it was the scariest factor and it actually modified my outlook on life.” A Dutch man additionally emphasised the significance of wholesome dwelling even in a pandemic context: “What I discover essential for a satisfying life are issues like: to do sports activities, that means energetic train 2 to three occasions per week; to eat a various food regimen … now on this pandemic, you continue to should just remember to get sufficient train and attempt to convey construction into your life by making day or week schedules.”

While family, careers, material well-being, friends and health are all top sources of meaning, they vary in importance across publics surveyed

Actually, how a subject like COVID-19 comes up – or doesn’t – highlights the place the commonalities finish and the variations between these 17 superior economies emerge. Take Taiwan for example. In Taiwan, society – or the establishments and attributes of the place individuals stay – is the high supply of that means, above household, occupation and materials well-being. Two ladies in Taiwan emphasize ease of dwelling on the island: “Meals, clothes, housing, and transportation are all handy. Life is secure and tranquil,” and “There are numerous handy shops in Taiwan … The general public medical health insurance system is nice; medical service is handy.” Others be aware their satisfaction with Taiwan’s political system. One lady claimed she is “lucky to stay in Taiwan, particularly within the facet of public well being, democracy, and the rule of legislation and human rights, as a result of it is rather free.” A younger man merely famous, “Dwelling in Taiwan may be very free, freer than China and Hong Kong.” Some particularly talked about their authorities’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, like a lady who listed the island’s “secure financial system, well-controlled new COVID-19 pandemic, [and] easy accessibility to medical care” as significant. Taiwan is among the few societies – the others are additionally largely within the Asia-Pacific area – the place references to COVID-19 don’t are inclined to coincide with negativity; as a substitute, most reward how nicely their authorities has dealt with issues.

Americans are much more likely to mention religion as a source of meaning in life than other publics

The subject of religion, faith and spirituality can be one the place some societies notably differ. Exterior of the U.S., faith is rarely one of many high 10 sources of that means cited – and not more than 5% of any non-American public point out it. Within the U.S., nonetheless, 15% point out faith or God as a supply of that means, making it the fifth most talked about subject. For some, the emphasis on faith is about their private relationship with Jesus: “I observe Jesus so my religion and hope is predicated on how he performs a task in my life. I don’t depend on any human to profit my life.” Others be aware the advantages that come from being a part of organized faith, corresponding to camaraderie in a troublesome time: “My husband simply died, so life will not be very fulfilling proper now. The help of household and associates, church, and his coworkers have helped me discover that means, in addition to desirous about the nice issues we shared.” Evangelical Protestants within the U.S. are more likely than mainline Protestants to say religion as a supply of that means – 34% vs. 13%, respectively. Throughout all U.S. non secular teams, those that attend non secular companies extra typically are more likely to quote their faith of their reply than those that are much less frequent attendees.

“I discover [living] inside [New Zealand] satisfying. We stay in a rustic which has pure magnificence and has quite a lot of respect for nature which in flip helps us get a greater connection to the nation. I like going outdoors, going for a run every single day, and seeing blue skies, forests and the fantastic individuals and it has a constructive influence on my psychological well being, and particularly in comparison with different nations I’ve been to.” –Man, 18, New Zealand

The UK, Australia, France, New Zealand and Sweden additionally stand aside for the relative emphasis they place on nature in comparison with many different locations surveyed. In every of those nations, nature is among the high eight sources of that means. Within the UK, too, hobbies and actions are revered by many: Round one-in-five point out their hobbies as one thing that provides them satisfaction in life, rating solely behind household and associates. (To discover extra about how every society is comparable – or totally different – and to examine the place individuals get that means in their very own phrases, please see “What individuals world wide say in regards to the that means of life.”)

When discussing what makes life significant and fulfilling, a median of 10% throughout the 17 publics surveyed additionally point out challenges or difficulties which have interfered with their seek for happiness. As soon as once more, this varies considerably throughout the publics surveyed, with round one-in-five mentioning hardships in Italy, however solely 5% or fewer saying the identical in New Zealand and the UK. In some locations surveyed – together with Italy, the U.S. and Spain – those that point out their society, locations and establishments are additionally extra prone to point out challenges or difficulties. In South Korea and Taiwan, the alternative is true: In each of those publics, those that point out their society are much less prone to point out adverse issues. Individuals who discover that means of their household or their associates additionally are usually much less prone to point out difficulties or challenges, and the identical is true of those that point out training and studying or their hobbies. 

Why this report focuses on subject rankings along with percentages

South Koreans, Japanese especially likely to provide only one source of meaning in life

There’s some variation in whether or not and the way individuals reply to the open-ended query. In every public surveyed, some respondents mentioned that they didn’t perceive the query, didn’t know find out how to reply or didn’t wish to reply. The share of adults that did so ranged from 23% within the U.S. to 1% in Spain. 

In some publics, individuals additionally tended to say fewer issues that make life significant of their response than did individuals surveyed elsewhere. For instance, throughout the 17 publics surveyed, a median of 34% responded to the query about what provides them that means in life by mentioning solely one of many matters researchers coded (e.g., household). The shares in South Korea and Japan are a lot increased, with not less than half solely mentioning one supply of that means when offering a response.

These variations assist clarify why the share giving a specific reply in sure publics could seem a lot decrease than others, even when the subject is the highest talked about supply of that means for that given public. To offer a particular instance, 19% of South Koreans point out materials well-being whereas 42% say the identical in Spain, however the subject is ranked first in South Korea and second in Spain. Given this, researchers have chosen to spotlight not solely the share of the general public who point out a given subject but in addition its relative rating among the many matters coded, each within the textual content and in graphics. 

These are among the many findings of a brand new evaluation of an open-ended query about that means in life, which was a part of a Pew Analysis Middle survey carried out Feb. 1 to Could 26, 2021, amongst 18,850 adults in 17 superior economies. 

Along with similarities and variations between the publics surveyed, the evaluation additionally reveals broader patterns in the place individuals discover that means based mostly on their age, gender, earnings and political ideology, amongst different elements. A few of these further key findings embrace: 

Those under 30 often more likely to find meaning in friends, jobs, education and hobbies than older people
  • Youthful individuals have a tendency to emphasise their associates, training and hobbies as sources of that means extra so than older individuals. For his or her half, older persons are extra prone to focus on retirement and well being than youthful ones. Older persons are additionally considerably extra prone to focus on challenges and adverse issues when discussing what provides them that means than youthful ones. 
  • In most respects, women and men are fairly related with regard to what provides them that means. However ladies are considerably extra prone to point out household as a supply of satisfaction of their lives than are males in most locations surveyed. Ladies are additionally considerably extra prone to emphasize their well being than are males. 
  • Folks with increased ranges of training and better incomes are usually extra prone to point out their household and profession as issues that give them that means than are individuals with decrease ranges of training or decrease incomes, respectively., Mentions of service and civic engagement are usually increased amongst these with extra training. These with decrease incomes are additionally considerably extra prone to cite challenges of their lives when discussing what provides them that means than these with increased incomes.
  • Those that place themselves on the left of the ideological spectrum usually tend to cite nature as a supply of that means than those that place themselves on the fitting. They’re additionally extra prone to point out their associates and hobbies, whereas these on the ideological proper point out faith extra typically. 
Those on the ideological left more likely to find meaning in nature, hobbies, education and friends; less likely to find meaning in religion
  • Within the U.S., partisanship additionally typically performs a task. For instance, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are about twice as probably than their Democratic counterparts to convey up freedom and independence. People right now – and particularly Republicans – have additionally turn into extra prone to point out freedom and independence as a supply of that means in life since 2017. For extra on this and different adjustments over time, see “The place People discover that means in life has modified over the previous 4 years.”