Point for Discussion:
The American Dream is something that we all strive to achieve. We may define it differently, but we are seeking success in our lives, whatever that may look like for each of us. This definition may have changed over the years, may continue to evolve, and may be harder to achieve, but the old Horatio Alger story of “work hard and you can achieve success” is still relevant today.
Our Points of View:
In drafting my point of view, I really wanted to understand what the “American Dream” means to people, and I learned through my research that there is a consensus among researchers and those investigating and reporting on the topic that the American Dream still exists, but it is defined differently.
Following are a few definitions that I found during my research: The American Dream is…
- Pew Research Center (Aug 2017) – “freedom of choice in how to live,” “having a good family life,” and “retiring comfortably” were among the top definitions for the majority of people.
- Mass Mutual Life Insurance (Feb 2018) – “owning a home” and “achieving financial independence”
- GoBankingRates survey (Mar 2018) – “success through hard work”
- According to Adam Barone, in a recent report for Investopedia.com (May 2019), “The American Dream is the belief that anyone, regardless of where they are born or the class they are born into, can attain their version of success . . .The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking and hard work rather than by chance.”
While their definitions vary, these sources and many others, believe in the American Dream.
Importantly, many people feel they are achieving or working toward achieving the American Dream, and that it is within their reach in their lifetime.
This got me to thinking about how I might define the American Dream. I agree with these other sources that the American Dream still exists, but I believe that the definition has been changing with the challenges of our time. I also believe that the definition differs between Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.
- For Boomers, of which I am one: We’ve been able to earn degrees (debt-free), purchase homes, earn respect in our careers, and retire early. The traditional definition of the American Dream was evident for us.
- Among Gen X: The definition of the American Dream may vary by those with kids and those without kids. Families with kids may define the American Dream as helping their children become happy, respected/respectful and productive members of society, and then being able to reward themselves for their sacrifices later in life.
- For Millennials: The definition of the American Dream may be more about the journey than the destination. Many are seeking experiences and the ability to pursue them during the course of their young lives. For some, it’s FIRE/achieving financial independence while they are still young. For others, given lower loyalty by employers to their employees, many try to learn what they can as quickly as possible from each employer to build their skillset to take to the next company. For millennials, the freedom from paying off student debt may be achievement of the American Dream.
For Gen Z, the definition is still being formulated as they live their lives and grow.
As I look back, I see the American Dream being driven by our reliance on other companies – where we work hard for them, and we can achieve our personal successes. In this context, many Boomers, like myself, are somewhat defined by their careers. As I look at today and forward, I see the American Dream being driven by individual passions – an entrepreneurial spirit that has accelerated along with the challenges. Anyone of any age can achieve the American Dream by pursuing their dreams, taking risks, leveraging social media, and sharing and selling to the world.
Maybe the American Dream is becoming the Global Dream, since entrepreneurs of all ages have the world in their very capable hands.
The American Dream has evolved over time. In the early days of our nation when immigrants came to America to achieve success on streets paved in gold, they were welcomed with open arms. Those that came to America were able to work hard and find ways to provide for themselves and their families. Later generations continued along the same lines contributing to the prosperity and improving the quality of life for their descendants.
Immigrants still want to come to America to escape very bad situations and oppression in their home countries. They are willing to risk their lives in search of their version of the American Dream, which is primarily the ability to feel safe, work hard, and improve their personal situations. This is no different than the reasons driving our founding fathers. America remains the land of opportunity for many, their vision of the American Dream.
But like all things, the definition of the American Dream means different things to each of us. As Laurie summarized above, the definition could be different, not only for each generation, but within each generation as well.
As Baby Boomers, we looked at the goal in a more materialistic fashion. We worked hard so that we could have a nice house, nice cars and the ability to travel the world. In general, retiring early was a nice thought, but not the means to an end. I hear much more these days about retiring early as a goal. Given that we are living longer, this is good while being pretty risky too. None of us wants to outlive our resources, but retiring early and living longer could certainly put a strain on those resources, if we don’t properly plan for it.
I know Baby Boomers that believe the American Dream is merely the privilege of being able to do what we want, when we want, along with the privilege of expressing dissatisfaction through peaceful protests. I also know Boomers that are more concerned about the materialistic side of things. And then there are those of us that believe, for all of the opportunity that should be available for all of us here, the Dream is tainted and out of reach.
As a prosperous nation, more of our citizens should have a better quality of life than they are experiencing. I hear things everyday that shock me in a modern day world power like the United States. This weekend, I learned that when members of our military, those who have chosen to serve and protect this nation, are deployed, their food allowances are cut. Service members’ families are struggling to afford enough food for their children as a result. Many of these families are living at or below the poverty line while family members are deployed. This just seems wrong. Their version of the American Dream includes service to Country, but they are struggling to make ends meet.
Fortunately, for many, the American Dream includes the willingness and ability to support our fellow citizens and provide assistance in situations like this one, and many have stepped up to set up food pantries and other food programs to help out these military families in times of need.
So how do I see the American Dream? My idea of it has certainly changed over the years. I strongly believed that if I worked hard and lived modestly, I would be able to live a long and contented life. So that’s how I approached it. My life is very good, and there is very little that I would change at this point. But my vision of the American Dream also includes service to others. I believe that we can all have a better life if we work together and take care of each other. We can all do our part to help others and make the Dream an achievable reality for everyone here.
Our Question for you:
How would you define the American Dream?