Over the last few years the strained economy has dominated news and altered many aspects of business, investing, and fundraising. Has the weakened economy affected what Americans prioritize in life?
A new study by the Barna Group updates a multi-year tracking study and explores what Americans identify as their highest priority. Family and faith continue to be the most common priorities of Americans, though these have waned in importance since 2006. Meanwhile, other elements such as health, leisure, money, and professional success are more likely to be identified as Americans' top priorities.
What Priorities have Gained?
In the face of the economic conditions, many Americans have become more focused on surviving and thriving. When asked to identify their highest priority in life, more Americans mention issues of health, leisure, personal comfort, and lifestyle balance than did so just a few years ago. Cumulatively, these priorities have grown from just 13% in 2006 to 20% in the 2010 study.
Another significant "winner" in the last few years has been Americans' increased emphasis on wealth, financial stability, money, professional attainment, success, and paying bills. These types of priorities have nearly doubled over the past four years, from 9% in 2006 to 17% in the current research.
What Objectives have Lost Ground?
While many observers have suggested that the economy has caused people to become more focused on life's essentials, the current study shows a drop in two life components that consistently top the list: family and faith.
The percentage of Americans who say their top priority is family has declined (from 51% in 2006 to the current level of 45%). Despite the decline, though, family-related goals - which include having a good family life, being a good parent and having a good marriage - remain the most important priorities to Americans.
Fewer adults said faith is their top priority in the 2010 study (12%) compared to 2006 (16%), although this is a slightly better proportion than 2008 (when just 9% of adults described faith as their top objective in life). Despite the fact that more than three-quarters of adults identify themselves as Christians and nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe in God, matters of "faith" are surprisingly rare when Americans choose their highest priority in life. The types of responses categorized as "faith" include connecting with God, living consistent with their faith principles, and being at peace with God.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, commented on the relatively small proportion of Americans who place top emphasis on faith: "The gap is vast between self-described affiliation with Christianity and ascribing highest priority to that faith. When it comes to why so much of American religion seems merely skin-deep, this gap between what people call themselves and what they prioritize is perhaps most telling."
Kinnaman indicated that even among some of the most actively involved faith groups, relatively small proportions of adults identify faith as their peak priority. Among Protestants (18%), churchgoers (18%), and non-evangelical born again Christians (16%) less than one-fifth identified faith as their top objective in life. The only exception seems to be evangelicals, among whom two out of every five mention that faith is their highest priority (39%). Among Catholics, just 4% mentioned faith, which is only slightly higher than the levels generated among unchurched adults (2%).
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SOURCE: Barna Group