The Evolving American Dream

The American Dream is alive and well, although it is an individual dream rather than a homogenized, collective one based around the central tenant of upward mobility. MetLife has released findings from its fifth annual MetLife Study of the American Dream, which found that the classical definition of the American Dream is being superseded by a “do it yourself” version that builds off of personal goals and values.

From September 26 to October 10, 2011, Penn Schoen Berland, a market research and consulting firm along with Strategy First Partners, another consulting firm, conducted 2,420 online surveys that spanned the general population. Its task? To gauge how and why the American Dream has morphed.

The study found that non-financial elements of the dream have become of important to those surveyed. Philosophical aspirations such as self-fulfillment and maintaining meaningful and rewarding relationships have eclipsed more utilitarian aspects of the dream such as financial and professional success. 70% of those surveyed said that you don’t have to be wealthy to achieve the dream; 65% said you don’t need to have a college degree; 71% and 70% respectively said marriage and children are not essential and 59% said that you don’t need to own a home.

The American Dream appears to have “gone social” with respondents across generations experiencing a significant level of conflict when they hypothetically have to choose between having a roof over their heads or having close friends and family. This is especially prevalent in Gen Y, with 33% of them saying that they would rather have close friends and 23% saying they would rather have a roof over their heads.

There is however, a cognizance of pragmatism and the study was able to uncover certain gaps where that is concerned. Almost three quarters of those surveyed said that a crucial component to attaning the American dream was having in place a financial safety net - which the study defines as having enough savings to cover living expenses in the event of an emergency such as an illness or an unexpected loss of employment, as well as financial protection products including life/home/health insurance, annuities and retirement accounts in place. Yet only 30% of respondents said their own financial safety net was adequate, and noted that building such a net is becoming more difficult. Some 50% of Baby Boomer respondents said that they had a weak retirement savings plan put in place and younger generations responded that they are not making enough money to build one.  

“Times are tough, but people are adapting and pursuing their own version of the dream,” said Beth Hirschhorn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for MetLife said “It’s as if Americans are saying, ‘Don’t tell me what the American Dream is; I have my own Dream. Yours may be different, and that’s okay.’”

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