July 6, 2023
Bill Shapard

Are We Better Off Today Than Our Forefathers?

PHOTO: Scene at a square dance in a rural home in McIntosh County in 1939.

Every generation wants their children to live better than they did. But recent polling would seem to indicate that Oklahomans, where nearly two-thirds report being better off than their parents, fewer report being better off in comparison to that of their parents and grandparents.


More than 61 percent of likely voting Oklahomans say that they are better off in their way of life or their financial life than their parents, but when they are asked to compare their parents' way of life to that of their grandparents, 73.3 percent say that their parents were better off than their grandparents. It is unclear if this trend is typically found in research as this is the first time has asked these questions, but a near 12-point gap between the two questions at least indicates that, in the minds of Oklahomans, their improvement over the last generation is at least slowing.

[QUESTION] "Thinking about YOUR way of life or your financial life, are YOU better off than your parents?"

  1. Much better off 24.2%
  2. Somewhat better off 37.4
  4. About the same 20.2
  5. Somewhat worse off 13.4
  6. Much worse off 4.8

[QUESTION] "Thinking about THEIR way of life or financial life, were YOUR parents better off than your grandparents?"

  1. Much better off 35.7%
  2. Somewhat better off 37.6
  4. About the same 15.0
  5. Somewhat worse off 4.5
  6. Much worse off 4.0
  8. Do not know 3.1

Republicans were nearly 12 points more likely to say that they were MUCH better off than their parents than Democrats who were at 18 percent and three times more likely than Independents at just 9.5 percent. While over 70 percents of Republicans report being better off than their parents, it's a staggering number compared to what Democrats reported at 44.2 percent.

Over 67 percent of those who identify as very conservative say they are better off than their parents, but among those that identify as very liberal, just over 36 percent say they were. It is fascinating to note that slightly more than a third of those with a post graduate degree identify as liberal in the poll, and one might assume that those with a post graduate degree would at least be better off today than their parents. Or, perhaps the answer is that the greatest improvements, generation to generation, has been among those with less education and more humble beginnings.

Differences between men and women respondents was not scientifically significant but there was an interesting find in Oklahoma's five congressional districts. The 2nd District, which is very rural and covers southeastern Oklahoma, was the highest percent to report being better off than their parents at 71.6 percent. According to 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) data, the 2nd district has the highest poverty rate of all of the state's congressional districts at 19.6 percent. With 71.6 percent saying they are better off than their parents, its greater than the 63 percent that said their parents were better off than their grandparents, meaning in Oklahoma's highest poverty congressional district the quality of life is generally improving generation to generation. Whereas the numbers decrease (like the overall numbers) when looking at Oklahoma's two pre-dominantly urban/suburban districts of the 1st and 5th.

It should be noted the results indicate high numbers of Oklahomans report improvements from the prior generation, a testament to not only America's booming 20th Century but also to general improvements to the way of life of people all over the globe. According to the Global Change Data Lab, extreme poverty in the world had dropped from a staggering 85 percent in 1910 to just 10 percent today.

But is the generational drop from a 73.3 percent increase to a 61.6 percent increase significant? Asking these questions for the first time in SoonerPoll's near 20 years of polling Oklahomans probably raises more questions than answers. Perhaps more to come on this topic in the future.

About the Poll, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, asked these questions of Oklahoma likely voters.

The scientific study was conducted from June 1-4, 2023 with 302 likely Oklahoma voters selected at random statewide from SoonerPoll's proprietary online panel. The sample was weighted by education, age, and congressional district in order to reflect the Oklahoma likely voter population for a general election. The weighting was conducted using a 'layered technique.'

The sample reflects the traditional demographical profile of the Oklahoma likely voter with roughly half of respondents identifying as conservative and nearly a third identifying as Moderate. The study has a Margin of Error (MoE) of ±5.65 percent.

A complete description of the methodology can be found here.

Bill Shapard
About the Author

Bill Shapard

Bill is the founder of and ShapardResearch, a full service market research firm based in Oklahoma City. Bill began his career in polling after working on major campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats in Oklahoma from 1996 until founding SoonerPoll in 2004.