A survey showed the 48% of Russians live their lives from day to day, focusing only on immediate tasks and concerns, without planning for the distant future. The remainder of society, meanwhile, works on carrying out short-term and long-term plans. In a survey data analysis, HSE researchers concluded that Russians’ main goals and desires generally reflect Russia’s unresolved social and domestic problems.*
Previous theoretical and empirical studies have shown that social well-being is directly correlated with the goals that the members of a society set for themselves. This includes plans that are both intended and already achieved in order to enjoy new life benefits, for either oneself or others.
According to researchers, the life goals of a population serve as an indication of that society’s true ideological structure. By analyzing them, we can predetermine the social trajectory of a country’s development.
In 2017, researchers collected information about Russians’ life goals based on a representative sample comprised of 700 people living in different regions of Russia. Of the respondents, 53% were women and 47% were men, with an average age of about 46. About 34% of respondents held advanced educational degrees, and approximately 48% lived in large cities and regional capitals. The average per capita income of families surveyed was 19,000 rubles (about 294 US Dollars) a month.
Survey results showed that 52.4% of the respondents have a specific life goal. However, the other part (almost half of Russian society) lives without any clear idea of what they would like to achieve in the future. 25.9% of respondents (among whom the average age was 44) could not name a single specific goal aside from activities of their everyday life—work, housework, and spending time with family. ‘For members of this group, the idea of life goals is understood as the equivalent to reproducing the way of life that they already have,’ the researchers observed. Another 21.7% of respondents stated that they do not have a life goal, because they believe that they have already achieved everything that they can. Respondents of this last group were, on average, 67 years old.
The average desired time frame indicated by respondents for achieving their goals was about 5 years. The largest time frames were associated with goals such as paying off large loans or providing for the future of one’s children — these averaged 8-9 years. Shorter term goals (averaging 3 years into the future) were related to travel and purchasing items for long-term use (such as furniture or an automobile).
The researchers divided the respondents' goals into three categories according to the extent to which they were connected with material well-being. They based this classification on the views expressed by the respondents themselves: participants were asked whether their goal was for a material result (such as receiving a raise or increasing their property value), a non-monetary result (such as gaining respect or fulfilling a spiritual need), or if it was something that could not be measured monetarily at all. Based on respondents’ answers, the researchers categorized the goals as ‘purely utilitarian’, ‘mixed’, and ‘purely idealistic’.
The purely utilitarian goal category was topped by buying a home or a car, renovating one’s home, and purchasing new furniture, in addition to pragmatic aspirations, such as getting a promotion or a raise.
Purely idealistic goals, on the other hand, were be divided into two subcategories. The first subcategory was related to social-demographic aspirations, such as starting a family and having children. The second subcategory involved achieving professional or creative goals: defending a thesis, learning an instrument, sports, etc. Researchers noted that, statistically, purely idealistic goals were largely characteristic of women who did not have children.
Finally, the most popular goal category was the ‘mixed’ one, which combines utilitarian and idealistic motives. This category included intentions that were creative (building a dacha with one’s own hands), pragmatic (becoming financially independent and achieving everything oneself), as well as goals that involved professional self-realization (such as finding a more interesting job).
Some of the mixed goals stemmed from difficult situations with which people are coping, such as setting aside money so that they can afford medical treatment abroad for their child.
Researchers also categorized goals that they classified as a ‘cry from the heart’. One example: ‘to at least once in my life go to a beach for vacation.’
In the mixed goal category, the percentage of respondents who have children is higher than those in the other two categories.
According to the researchers, the more educated and higher paid one is, the more likely she or he is to have a goal. Age and satisfaction with what one has already achieved, on the other hand, were associated with less desire to improve one’s well-being.
In Russia, the researchers concluded, there is ‘a high degree of detachment from long-term goal-setting.’ On the one hand, this stems from natural (i.e., age) divisions of the population. On the other hand, the group of respondents who indicated no life goals included people are in their prime years for social activity. This shows that the hidden ‘resource of modernization’ in society is being underused. Mere lifestyle reproduction (work, family, leisure) without any socially meaningful life goals does not lead to marked progress. In addition, society’s development hinders a predominance of utilitarian goals, which reflects objective and unresolved social and domestic problems.
In sum, the study authors conclude that contemporary Russian society is undergoing a dangerous turn by which a new balance between purely utilitarian and idealistic social interests has taken hold while a significant portion of society is completely excluded from the goal-setting process.
‘If we do not reverse this trend towards strictly utilitarian goals, then, in the near future, this will hinder our society’s ability to create values that would attract global interest, thereby leaving us merely in the shadow of global development,’ says Vladimir Karacharovskiy. ‘Society itself, meanwhile, will resolve neither its cultural nor its economic problems.’
The problem can be solved by the highly popular ‘mixed goals’ that combine pragmatic calculation with idealistic aspiration. Development in this direction will allow society to combine ‘the creation of new cultural values and ideals with the capitalization of their own achievements.’
* The study was conducted with the support of the Russian National Science Foundation (Project No. 16-18-10270)