NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Do-It-Yourself American Dream

November 30, 2011

In a nation that has been deeply impacted by a lingering financial crisis the long-held view of realizing a prosperous American Dream is no longer a monolithic, singular concept.  In its place, a new American Dream is emerging, the characteristics of which can be seen in distinctions between the beliefs of various generations.  Looking to the Silent, Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Gen Y generations, crucial deviations have developed with each successive age group in how they regard their American dream, according to a new report from MetLife.

  • Achieving an American Dream remains key, with 55 percent of Gen Y stating that it is "very important," while this figure was only 14 percent and 33 percent for the Silent and Baby Boomer generations, respectively.
  • However, traditional markers for measuring the attainment of that dream are valued less by the younger generations: between the Silent generation and Gen Y, 16 percent fewer believe a college degree is essential, while 18 percent fewer believe it is crucial to own a home.
  • The importance of material wealth seems to have decreased with time -- from the Silent generation to Gen Y, the percentage stating that "having enough money to live the way they want" is the most important criterion for personal success has decreased from 40 to 20 percent.

Through a variety of polls and studies, it can be seen that the American Dream has taken on facets that were, among previous generations, less popular.  It has become more tailored to the individual and determined less by society as a whole.  Consequently, the criteria by which it is measured have also become more comprehensive.

  • The percentage valuing their personal accomplishments over opportunities for society as a whole has increased with each of the four generations, from 28 percent (Silent) to 33 percent (Baby Boomer) to 47 percent (Gen X) to 52 percent for Gen Y.
  • Among those that are attempting to create a financial safety net, the percentage relying on their employer or the government has reached its lowest point with Gen Y (19 percent).

Weathering the financial crisis, the youngest members of American society have come to see success differently and take a distinct approach to achieving it compared to previous generations.

Source: "The Do-It-Yourself American Dream," MetLife, 2011.

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