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(15 December 2017) - How far do people around the globe think they and others like them have come, compared with 50 years ago? Pew Research Center put that question to nearly 43,000 people in 38 countries around the globe. Current economic conditions a key factor in assessing progress.

Pew Research Center
© Pew Research Center

At a country level, some of the most positive assessments of progress over the past 50 years are found in Vietnam (88% say life is better today), India (69%) and South Korea (68%) – all societies that have seen dramatic economic transformations since the late 1960s, not to mention the end of armed conflict in the case of Vietnam.

Europeans tend to see the past half-century as a period of progress. A regional median of 53% describes life as better today, compared with 30% who take the opposite view. Upbeat assessments are most common in Germany (65% better), the Netherlands (64%), Sweden (64%), Poland (62%) and Spain (60%). Greeks (53% worse) and Italians (50%) are the least convinced that life is better than 50 years ago.

In more than half the countries polled, people with more education say that, for people like them, life is better than it was a half-century ago.

Populism is often associated with nostalgia for an idealized past. In the case of Europe, at least, the survey findings confirm that populists tend to be more enamored of the past than people who look askance at some of the continent’s right-wing populist parties.

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