Half of the American adults surveyed said that today's children will grow up to be worse off than people are today, as opposed to 34% who say they'll be better off. That particular question did not define the terms "better off" or "worse off," and addressed children in general, not just those of the survey subjects.
When the question was asked of parents concerning their own children, most still believe that their kids will be better off that they are, though the percentage of parents who believe that (56%) has shrunk by 10 points since 2002, and the percentage of those who think their children will be less well off (22%) has nearly doubled.
Of all the demographic groups broken out of the survey, only Hispanics had a majority who believed that children of today will be better off tomorrow. "One likely explanation is that so many Hispanics are immigrants - and immigrants throughout history have tended to be upwardly mobile people with faith in the future," says Pew. Overall, women were more downbeat than men, and the older, less educated and less affluent were the most pessimistic, though college grads registered a sharp decline in optimism over 2002.
Historically, the results from these sorts of surveys usually say more about the present than the future. Downbeat assessments of the future were common in the early '90s, during a period of economic recession. But optimism grew during that decade as the economy boomed and exciting Internet technology captured the popular imagination, only to fall again in the wake of 9/11. Today's economic hardships such as the rising cost of fuel, geopolitical tensions, moral ambiguity, and lack of confidence in our political leadership are surely driving much of our present concerns about the future.