The American Dream Is Now About Security

Americans no longer looking for opportunity—but rather, financial security.

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The term "American dream" was coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931. Adams wrote: "The American Dream" is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement."

He also detailed what the dream was not: "It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Fast forward nearly eight decades, and Americans are dreaming about security rather than opportunity.

A new survey of 2,112 Americans by ad agency JWT (formerly J Walter Thompson) reflects significant changes in that vision. A couple of highlights from the survey:

  • The single biggest change seems to be that "financial security" is the No. 1 component of the American dream for respondents, in contrast with Adams's sense that equal opportunity was key. Respondents ranked "equal opportunity" as 12th in importance.
    • Only 71 percent of millennials (those born in 1978 and later) said they believed in the American dream, compared with 80 percent of "matures" (those born before 1945).
      • Belief in the American dream correlates with household income—the higher the income, the more likely the faith.
        • The biggest perceived obstacle to achieving the American dream? Laziness, followed by rising prices in everyday goods and energy.
          • Only 46 percent of generation X (those born between 1965 and 1977) believe that they are better off than their parents were at their age, compared with 66 percent of matures.

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