Most Americans (62%) disagree with the idea that success is mostly determined by forces outside a person’s control, but 34% agree with this sentiment; in 2003, the public dismissed the idea that success is largely outside of one’s control by a slightly wider margin (67%-30%). Stark racial differences exist on this question as blacks continue to feel less empowered than whites. About half of African Americans (48%) say success in life is largely determined by forces outside of one’s control, compared with 31% of whites. A decade ago, the racial differences in views of personal empowerment were much narrower. Fewer than four-in-ten African Americans (38%) and 31% of whites said that success was mostly the result of outside forces. But since then, higher percentages of blacks have agreed with this statement. In 2002, 49% said that success was largely determined by outside forces; that number fell to 43% in 2003, and rose to 48% in the current survey. Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.