Since World War II, obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed, our net national savings rate has plummeted, and American adults and kids alike have allocated a rapidly rising proportion of their free time to staring at electrons dancing on screens.
What’s happened to our country since the Greatest Generation? Are these secular trends symptoms of an epidemic decline in self-control? Do we need to make American self-control great again?
Americans generally see themselves as kind, fair and honest people. In contrast, in a self-report questionnaire completed by more than 80,000 American adults, self-control ranked lowest among 24 strengths of character.
In a recent survey, three out of four parents said they thought self-control has declined in the past half-century.
By this time of year — when most of us have failed to deliver on our New Year’s resolutions — we’re more likely to blame our “lack of willpower” than any other cause.
As scientists who study self-control, we’re often asked whether American willpower is on the wane. Without a time machine that allows us to travel backward and compare Americans from different decades on the same self-control measures, we can’t be sure. Indeed, the scant scientific evidence on the question suggests that if anything, the capacity to delay gratification may be increasing.
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