Most Americans Define Success Down to Just Paying the Bills

Most Americans Define Success Down to Just Paying the Bills

A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn and Harris Poll examined what success means to the typical US employee today. The results underlined several trends we’ve been seeing in recent years in what employees care about the most. Corner offices and fancy titles are no longer seen as status symbols the way they once were, while employees are more interested in learning new skills, not missing out on career opportunities, and helping others succeed as well as themselves.

LinkedIn also found, however, that Americans are heavily preoccupied with paying their bills and getting or staying out of debt:

Two out of five professionals don’t list being passionate about their job as a measure of success – instead they’re in it to pay the bills (69%). And living problem-free is a top priority, as nearly three-quarters (74%) are in it not to worry about money. This motivation is helping to usher in the age of the side hustle. Whether it’s moonlighting in an art gallery or building websites on the weekends, more than one-third of professionals today (36%) find success in pursuing a passion project or side job.

Fast Company’s Rich Bellis remarks on the dark side of these findings, noting that 68 percent of men and 76 percent of women said they considered “not living paycheck-to-paycheck” a measure of success, compared to just 17 percent of women and 23 percent of men who defined success as “having material wealth.” These gender differences, Bellis suspects, are illustrative of the gender pay gap and the relatively greater financial insecurity women experience as a result. Yet it’s “a little troubling,” he writes, that most Americans would consider themselves successful just for keeping their heads above water.

Still more troubling is that many Americans aren’t even successful by that low standard: Surveys last year suggested that anywhere from one half to over three quarters of US workers were living paycheck-to-paycheck, at least some of the time. The widespread focus on financial stability uncovered in LinkedIn’s survey, along with the rise of the “side hustle,” also go to show how big of a concern income insecurity is for workers in the US (and elsewhere) today.

In a recent note to clients, Deutsche Bank economist Torsten Slok wrote that a larger share of Americans (30.4 percent) had more debt than wealth than at any point since 1962, while the median family’s net worth was lower in 2016 than it was in 1989. Also, with freelancers and gig economy workers making up an ever larger share of the workforce, the safety net traditionally provided by steady, long-term careers with a single employer is no longer available to many Americans. With the dramatic changes affecting the economy and the way we work, no wonder we’re so concerned with paying the bills.