The American Dream has changed and transformed many times since the term was first introduced in 1774. However, the most common definition of the word refers to its popularization in the 1931 novel, “Epic of America,” which first defines it as “…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”
The American Dream is a prominent part of American culture and strongly linked to the goals, dreams and work ethic of citizens across the United States. Now, the question becomes this: Have the specific desires of the American Dream changed? Has the evolving social culture and fluctuating economic climate made priorities in recent generations differ from those of their grandparents?
In this study of The New American Dream from August of this year, a thousand Americans were asked to define the American Dream. The most popular answer was “retiring financially secure,” followed closely by “being debt free.” These two ideals aren’t particularly prominent in the 20th century American Dream found in “Epic of America.” Past generations would have most likely defined the American Dream as owning a home or property (only chosen by 18.2% of the survey) and becoming a millionaire (only chosen by 3% of the survey).
One possible explanation for this is that as the world changes, priorities are bound to as well. For instance, as more and more people attend college and are forced to take out student loans because of rising tuition, living debt-free becomes a bigger concern than it was 50 years ago. In addition, young adults who entered the job market after the Great Recession began have a very different sense of financial stability. Instead of striving for fame and fortune, many Americans are striving to find work with their degree and earn enough money to take care of their basic financial responsibilities.
Even though some specific details may differ slightly from the traditional view of the American Dream, it can be argued that the core principles that made America so important and unique are the same today as they always were. Economic busts might puncture morale, but America has remained a home to equal and plentiful opportunities. Regardless of your background, with skill and work ethic you can make something of yourself here. Whether someone views that as becoming rich and famous, or as having a house, family and white-picket fence– it’s possible.
Our Zing post about the improving attitude of the housing market is an indicator that the desire to own a home is alive and well. The 2013 National Housing Pulse Survey showed that 8 out of 10 people think owning a home is a good decision, and the majority of renters say they hope to one day own their own home. Ownership of property has always been a cornerstone of the American Dream and according to this survey, that hasn’t changed.
What do you think? Are Americans working towards a new set of priorities or have we maintained the traditional values that shaped our culture into what it is today?