Personal Finances: Americans Comparatively Confident

by Raksha Arora, Business and Economy Editor

Only 40% of Britons envisage financial security in retirement

At a time when many pundits are chastising American consumers for their excessive consumption and alarmingly low savings rate, it is interesting to look at just how secure Americans feel about their personal finances relative to consumers in other countries.

When it comes to personal financial ratings, recent multinational Gallup polling* reveals that adults in Canada and the United States are more positive than those in Great Britain. Asked how they would rate their personal financial situations today, more than half of Canadians (57%) and Americans (52%) rate their situations as "excellent" or "good." Only 41% of Britons, on the other hand, rate their financial situations this positively. Along the same lines, 49% of Americans and 48% of Canadians see their personal financial situations as getting better, but only 36% of Britons see their situations improving.

But on some other personal financial questions, there is little difference among Americans, Canadians, and Britons. Similar majorities of people in each country -- 73% in Canada, 72% in the United States, and 68% in Great Britain -- say they have enough money to live comfortably. At 32%, the percentage of Britons reporting that they do not have enough money to live comfortably is just a shade higher than the 28% of Americans and 26% of Canadians who report the same.

On the subject of money for retirement, the numbers are disparate. Non-retired Canadians are the most confident about the future state of their finances in retirement -- the majority (61%) think they will have enough money to live comfortably. Slightly more than half of non-retired Americans (53%) say the same, and the outlook seems bleaker in Britain, where only 40% envisage financial security in retirement.

How do the countries currently compare in terms of consumers' perceived tax burdens? According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2003, the tax revenue on income and profits that is collected in Canada stood at 15.6% of GDP, compared with 12.9% in Britain and 10.9% in the United States. When it comes to their respective tax loads, Gallup data confirm that Americans and Britons feel better off than Canadians. About three-fourths (73%) of Canadians say income taxes are too high, while only about half of Americans (51%) and Britons (54%) have the same complaint. In Canada and Britain, where Gallup asked respondents to choose between two options -- increasing social benefits or reducing income taxes -- the majority in both countries (61% in Canada and 59% in Great Britain) chose reducing taxes. It's interesting that Canadians and Britons give similar responses to these questions even though Canadians are much more likely than Britons to say they are overtaxed.

Bottom Line

This three-country comparison reflects that Britons are far more troubled about providing for their retirement than Americans and Canadians are. Canadians, on the other hand, are more likely to feel they are facing an unduly high tax burden. With regard to the United States, the public perception of personal finances (especially in retirement) could certainly be cheerier, but relative to concerns of those in the other countries, it may not be a bad thing to be American.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,010 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 4-7, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 11-17, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 5-18, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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