In an unscientific series of interviews, we asked visitors to the Smithsonian if they were optimistic about the next 40 years

What Will America Look Like in 2050?

A Smithsonian/Pew poll finds optimism about science and social progress despite worries about the environment and population growth

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Because the U.S. population is expected to increase by more than 100 million by 2050, the poll asked about such growth. More than twice as many respondents (42 percent) said it would be more harmful than beneficial (16 percent). And there was ambivalence about immigration. Roughly a third of respondents said legal immigration had to be decreased to keep the economy strong, but a slightly higher proportion said legal immigration had to be kept at current levels; a quarter said it should be increased.

A clear majority expected race relations to improve (68 percent). Even more expected a Hispanic candidate to be elected president of the United States (69 percent). And 89 percent—the largest majority in the entire poll—said a woman would be elected president.

There was broad agreement that the cultural landscape, however else it changes over the next 40 years, will have less paper. More than six in ten respondents said they believed that paper currency and printed newspapers would disappear and personal letters sent by mail would be exceedingly rare.

And a hopeful outlook on the U.S. economy—56 percent said it would be stronger in 2050 than it is now—came with a caveat: 86 percent said Americans would have to work into their 70s before retiring. Those longer careers, in the respondents’ view, would not be accompanied by longer lives. Those who thought more people would live to be 100 (42 percent) were outnumbered by those who did not (50 percent).

About T.A. Frail
T.A. Frail

Tom Frail is a senior editor for Smithsonian magazine. He previously worked as a senior editor for the Washington Post and for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

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