Growing inequality is one of the biggest social, economic and political challenges facing the modern world, a struggle between those who increasingly ‘have’ and those who increasingly ‘have-less’. And with the recent economic crisis threatening the survival of the welfare state around the globe, the shift to self-reliance means those without the tools to look after themselves are being left behind.
The level to which consumers are able to keep up with the complexities of modern life and try and ensure a better future is explored in ING’s joint-report with Motivaction: Bridging The Empowerment Divide, which reveals sharp divisions on personal goals and expectations of standard of living depending on people’s background, income, personal circumstances and where they live.
Encouragingly, more than a third (37%) of Europeans are optimistic their standard of living will rise in the next five years. But in the same breath almost a quarter (23%) expect it to fall – leaving a net balance of just 14% who are positive about the future.
Sluggish growth in Europe is exposing a clear divide in society, and our research has found people’s expectations strongly reflect their experiences over the last five years. 60% of those who feel better off from the last five years are optimistic about the future, while over half (53%) of those feeling worse off expect their situation to deteriorate further – revealing a picture of rising inequality.
Generally, in the faster growing Eastern economies people are more positive about the future as the economies continue to mature, while a lacklustre recovery in Western Europe is leaving people less optimistic. One exception is Spain, however, where people are significantly more optimistic about their living standards following a robust economic rebound.
The differences at country and regional levels are stark. But drilling down deeper reveals even more significant groups of people who feel isolated in the economic and social domain.
Lower standards of living and greater pessimism are more prevalent among lower income classes, the lower educated and older people – and it’s also this group who we find don’t have clear financial, professional or personal goals. As a result, many feel discouraged about the future and tend to focus on the here and now.
Overall more than half of people in Europe (55%) lack financial goals – a significant number - and the proportion is higher among those with lower incomes.
In contrast, those from higher income and highly educated groups are more likely to have experienced rising standards of livings, set financial goals and are more optimistic for the future.
Optimists not only more often have clear financial goals, they are more goal oriented in general - 43% indicate that they also have clear personal goals and 46% have clear professional goals. While for pessimists these figures are only 27% and 21%.
What we can therefore see from the study is a strong correlation between personal goal setting and people’s ability to keep up with the twists and turns of modern life.
“Addressing the empowerment challenge means looking beyond consumers’ finances and behaviour to gain an understanding of their goals and motivations.”
So what does all of this actually mean? And what do organisations need to do to address this?
The problem is a lack of growth and unequal distribution is leading to increasing diversity across society and between countries. This means different sections of society require different levels of support, and the real challenge is how we can empower the more disengaged end of society to help them take steps to improve their lives.
Addressing this means organisations need to look beyond consumers’ finances and behaviour to gain an understanding of their goals and motivations. Unless we can grasp what people are trying to achieve, we will not be able to empower them.
But it’s also important to recognise that while people’s goals and motivations are interacting with changing economic circumstances, they are not solely determined by economic or demographic considerations. The picture is much richer than this, in which people’s goals reflect their values and beliefs, as well as their evolving lifestyles, family relationships and social situations.
As a result, there is no “one size fits all” approach to empowering people to make better decisions. This is the empowerment divide that the Think Forward Initiative is committed to addressing.
Watch Mark Cliffe's CNN interview about the report here.