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Older Americans Aren’t Bragging About Their Legacy

Amid the daily headlines of climate change, political polarization, violence, inequality, and economic concern, older Americans are pessimistic about the legacy they will leave to future generations, according to a new Spotlight on Aging poll. 

Do they feel they’ll leave the world a better place for future generations? For many, the answer is no.

The survey, which asked how Americans age 50 and older view their contributions to bettering society, is the latest in a series of surveys conducted through the Foresight 50+ panel by AARP and NORC at the University of Chicago. Launched in 2021, the Foresight 50+ panel aims to amplify the voice of the fastest-growing age group in the country by being the nation’s largest and highest-quality survey panel for this demographic.

More than half of Americans 50-plus (54%) believe they made political polarization worse for future generations. Many also feel responsible for climate change, with 45% indicating they have made things worse. And nearly half (48%) think they have made crime and violence worse. 

Views are mixed on inequality, with about a third indicating their generation has made race relations (33%) and income inequality (31%) worse for future generations. A quarter (24%) also believe they have made economic opportunity worse.

While many topics evoked a bleak outlook, the survey also captured some areas of pride. Nearly three in four (74%) believe their greatest contribution to society is the advancement of technology. Half point to contributing long-lasting improvements in health and wellness, and 45% believe they have bettered the arts and culture, including music and movies, for future generations.

Even among the topics invoking the most pessimism, rays of hope persist. While many believe their generation has faltered, they still expect improvements for future generations. Despite their grim views, many expect improvement  in economic opportunity (42%), environment and climate change (31%), income inequality (35%), and race relations (35%). Overwhelmingly, they believe future generations will follow in their footsteps with advancements in technology, with 76% expecting breakthroughs by future generations.

And while Americans 50-plus almost universally characterize older generations as hard working, charitable, moral, and ethical, they view their younger counterparts as inclusive, curious, creative, and willing to speak up for what’s fair and just.


This NORC-funded poll was conducted December 9–13, 2021, through AARP–NORC’s Foresight 50+ probability-based panel during a monthly AARP-NORC Omnibus survey. It included 1,011 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults age 50 and older. Most surveys were completed online, but 58 were completed via phone.

For more information, please contact Eric Young at NORC at

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