Emerging and Developing Economies Much More Optimistic than Rich Countries about the Future

Education, Hard Work Considered Keys to Success, but Inequality Still a Challenge

As they continue to struggle with the effects of the Great Recession, publics in advanced economies are pessimistic about the financial prospects for the next generation. Most of those surveyed in richer nations think children in their country will be worse off financially than their parents. In contrast, emerging and developing nations are more optimistic that the next generation will have a higher standard of living.

Overall, optimism is linked with recent national economic performance. Countries that have enjoyed relatively high levels of growth in recent years also register some of the highest levels of confidence in their children’s economic futures.


In this Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, entitled Global Views of Economic Opportunity and Inequality, emerging and developing countries are more optimistic than their richer counterparts that the next generation will have a higher standard of living.  This survey was conducted in 44 countries among 48,643 respondents from March 17 to June 5, 2014.

48% of Vietnamese surveyed felt that having a good education was the most important way to get ahead in life.  Working hard, knowing the right people and being lucky came in at 36%, 28% and 24%, respectively.  Here are some other significant findings in general and as they relate to Vietnam:

More Opportunities at HomeLooking ahead, people in the emerging and developing world see better opportunities at home than abroad. Majorities or pluralities in 30 of the 34 emerging and developing nations surveyed say they would tell young people in their country to stay at home in order to lead a good life, instead of moving to another country.  This, of course, is the future of many of these countries.

Vietnam ranked 3rd among emerging countries after Thailand and Indonesia.  11% said “move abroad” while 88% said “stay.” Certainly, Vietnam’s economy is more vibrant and dynamic than those in many of the “advanced” countries – on average and in certain fields.  It’s also worth mentioning that Vietnam had a very different starting point.  The challenge for the education system is to catch up and provide quality education and training across-the-board.  When these planets align, there will be seismic changes in both overseas study and emigration trends.

Inequality-06Vietnam ranked second among the emerging countries in response to the question about what contributes to success in life with 73% saying that it is determined by forces outside our control.”  This is not surprising, given the prevailing cultural view of fate vs. individual control over one’s life, as in the US, for example, and the importance of family and other relationships, your horoscope, fortune-telling, etc.  The US falls at the other end of the spectrum with 57% disagreeing with this statement.  Its view is rooted in the “American Dream” which, for most, is cultural mythology.  The truth falls in that vast expanse of gray in which success is determined by “forces outside our control” and individual talents, interests and efforts.

Inequality-01Publics in emerging markets also generally support the free market. More than half in 21 of the 25 countries surveyed agree that most people are better off in a free market system even if there is some inequality, including roughly three-quarters or more in Vietnam, China, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Ironic but not surprising in Vietnam, a country whose government made the fateful decision to bend rather than break when it introduced its renovation (Đổi Mới) reforms in 1986.  The quality of life for the vast majority of Vietnamese has improved considerably.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Better Future for Next GenerationPeople in emerging and developing nations are more optimistic for the next generation than publics in advanced economies.  Vietnam ranked 1st in this category, reflecting perhaps the legacy of the 1st (French) and 2nd (American) Indochina Wars and the poverty of the postwar period until the reforms of 1986 began to kick in.  An overwhelming 94% said the next generation will have a better future than their parents’ generation.  This is a reality not a prediction for most Vietnamese.


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