More than half of the people in eight nations around the world cite the economy as their biggest concern, and that jumps to 70% for Americans and 71% for Japanese, a poll of 4,000 people over the Internet by Survey Sampling finds.

Most people cited the economy first from a list also including healthcare reform, preserving the environment, preventing terrorism, reforming education, monitoring the food industry, improving relations with other countries and preparing for natural disasters.

In Germany, however, the primary concern for 25% is reforming healthcare, and in Australia, citizens are evening split between the economy (34%) and healthcare (31%).

Around the world, 40% are resolving to improve their financial situations in 2011. Other resolutions: losing weight, developing a healthy habit and getting organized.

Although economic worries linger, more than twice as many respondents expect to be “much or somewhat better off” next year than those who anticipate being much or somewhat worse off.”

The most optimistic are the Chinese (77%) and Singaporeans (65%). The most pessimistic are the French (29%) and Japanese (32%).

Although there is a general optimism in most countries, less than half of respondents in the U.S. (43%), Germany (43%), France (47%), the U.K. (48%) and Japan (48%) plan to make a major purchase in 2011, such as a computer, flat screen TV, car, boat or home.

The story is far different in China, where 85% of respondents plan to purchase a big-ticket item in 2011, and in Singapore, where 73% have such plans.