Fate, Hope and Insecurity: Future Orientation and Forward Planning


Published in association with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Government policy is based on certain normative assumptions about how citizens should think and behave. A picture is emerging of a 'New Model Citizen' at the heart of New Labour Britain: a citizen who values education and training, has a strong work ethic, a strong nuclear family ethic, and a strong savings ethic. This citizen makes rational decisions and behaves 'responsibly' in both economic and social life. Central to this, the citizen both thinks and plans ahead, deferring gratification where necessary. We are thus witnessing a growing emphasis on individual planning rather than state or collective planning.

But, at the same time, recent social and economic change - such as decreased job security, a decline in collective bargaining powers, a rising divorce rate and increased inequality in wealth distribution - have made individual planning much more difficult.

This report explores the extent to which people think about and plan for the future in relation to key economic and social aspects of their lives. How do people see their lives one year from now? Five years? Ten? How certain do they feel about their present and future lives, and how much control do they think they will have over their futures? How far ahead do people plan? To what extent is this influenced by age, sex, lifecycle stage and social class? And what are the policy implications of attitudes to forward planning and future orientation? Previous research in this area has either focussed on specific policy areas such as pensions, or has taken a broad theoretical approach, to the exclusion of any empirical research.

Fate, Hope and Insecurity is based on in-depth interviews with a cross-section of the public. By drawing on this empirical research to explore the general nature and extent of future orientation and forward planning, the study makes a unique contribution to the literature.


  • Introduction: Policy context; Research aims; Research methods
  • Future Orientation: The direction and extent of people’s time horizons; Explaining short-term time horizons; Categories of future orientation
  • Forward Planning: Aspirations, expectations and plans; The dimensions of forward planning; The determinants of planning
  • Conclusions

Karen Rowlingson is a Lecturer in Social Research in the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath. Her previous publications includeThe Growth of Lone Parenthood: Diversity and Dynamics (PSI, 1998) and Wealth in Britain: A Lifecycle Perspective (PSI 1999).