The belief that people are better off in a free market, even if some are rich and some are poor, is a casualty of the Great Recession. Support for capitalism has fallen in Europe, with 58% saying most people are better off in a free market economy, a decline from 70% who held that belief in 2007.

In 11 of the 21 nations surveyed in March-April 2012, half or fewer now agree with the statement that people are better off in a free market economy even though some people are rich and some are poor. In 9 of 16 nations with comparable data since 2007, before the Great Recession began, support for capitalism is down. Such disenchantment is particularly acute in Italy (where support for a free market economy is down 23 percentage points), Spain (20 points) and Poland (15 points).

In most countries, people’s personal economic experience shapes their view of the free market. Those who are suffering are less likely to think people are better off under capitalism than are those who are well off. This is particularly the case in Russia (a 31 percentage point gap), Poland (30 points), China (26 points) and Japan (25 points).

In the U.S. and in four of the eight European countries surveyed, men are more likely than women to think people are better off in a free market economy. There is similarly disproportionate male support for capitalism in Turkey and Tunisia. And in 12 of 18 countries, people with a college education are more likely than those without a college degree to back the free market system. Read More

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