The IFTF Blog
Survey Finds Majority of Americans Don’t Think about the Future
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Most Americans think about the very near future—one month from the present—every day, but thinking five, 10 and 30 years out drops off significantly, which has implications on people’s daily lives and society as a whole
April 13, 2017, Palo Alto, CA – A survey released today by the Institute for the Future found that more than half of Americans rarely or never think about the “far future,” which can lead to poor decision making in their daily lives and negative consequences for society.
The online survey polled more than 2,800 adults about their future thinking—the largest of its kind to-date—and found: more than a quarter of Americans rarely or never think about their lives five years from now; more than a third never think about something that could happen 10 years in the future; and more than half of Americans rarely or never think about their lives 30 years out.
"We’ve got a 'future gap' in America," said Jane McGonigal, author of the survey and senior researcher at the Institute for the Future. “The majority of people aren’t connecting with their future selves, which studies have shown leads to less self-control and less pro-social behavior. Thinking about the future in five, 10 and 30 years is essential to being an engaged citizen and creative problem solver. Curiosity about what might happen in the future, the ability to imagine how things could be different, and empathy for our future selves are all necessary if we want to create positive change in our own lives or the world around us.”
Studies show the less people think about their future lives, the less self-control they exhibit and the less likely they are to make choices that benefit the world in the long-run. People who don’t think about the future vote less often, save less for retirement, make poor health decisions, procrastinate more, have a harder time resisting temptation, care less about long-term challenges like climate change, are more likely to drop out of school or be arrested, and more.
As the Institute for the Future’s study shows, the vast majority of people never think about the far future, but that is something that can change and would lead to positive outcomes.
"Future thinking is one of our most under-developed skill sets," McGonigal said. "It takes less than a minute a day, but studies have shown it can lead to improved health, better financial stability and much more. Universities across the country are starting to teach future thinking classes, including Stanford’s continuing studies program where I teach, because of the benefits it has been shown to have. Spending a little more time thinking about the future could have a positive impact on people’s personal lives and our society."
Findings in the report include ...
- 53 percent of Americans say they rarely or never think about something that might happen, or something they personally might do, at least 30 years from the present. Only 10 percent think about the far future every day (5 percent) or several times a week (5 percent).
- 36 percent rarely or never think about something that might happen at least 10 years in the future, while 17 percent say they think that far out every day (7 percent) or several times a week (10 percent)
- 27 percent rarely or never think about their lives at least five years from the present, while 26 percent say they think five years out every day (11 percent) or several times a week (15 percent)
- 60 percent of Americans think about the very near future—one month from the present—every day. Only 3 percent say they rarely or almost never think about it.
- 26 percent think about something that might happen one year in the future every day, and another 30 percent think about it several times a week
- 13 percent think about the future three years out every day, with another 20 percent thinking about it several times a week. Eighteen percent say they rarely (12 percent) or almost never (6 percent) think about what might happen three years in the future.
- The older you get, the less you think about the future—75 percent of seniors rarely or never think 30 years out, while 51 percent rarely or never think 10 years out
- Having children or grandchildren did not significantly increase future thinking, but a brush with mortality—such as a potentially terminal medical diagnosis, a near-death experience, or other traumatic event—did. Among people who reported a brush with mortality, there was a 21 percent increase in thinking about the 30-year future often, a 25 percent increase in thinking about the 10-year future often, and a 31 percent increase in thinking about the five-year future often.
- A minority of Americans are highly future-minded: 17 percent say they think about the world 30 years out at least once a week; 29 percent think about the 10-year future at least once a week, and 35 percent think about the five-year future at least once a week
Institute for the Future conducted an online survey, using Survey Monkey, of 2,818 adults. It was conducted between December 7-13, 2016. Participants were recruited via Facebook and Twitter.
About Institute for the Future
Institute for the Future (IFTF) is an independent, nonprofit strategic research group with almost 50 years of forecasting experience. The core of our work is identifying emerging discontinuities that will transform global society and the global marketplace. We provide organizations with insights into business strategy, design process, innovation, and social dilemmas. Our research spans a broad territory of deeply transformative trends, from health and health care to technology, the workplace, and human identity. IFTF is based in Palo Alto, California.