A recent report by the American Enterprise Institute concluded that the American Dream is still alive and well by many measures.
This AEI Public Opinion Study, a comprehensive collection of polls, shed light on what people think is important to achieve economic opportunity or “the good life.” The results also demonstrated that hope for achieving the American Dream is more widespread than it may seem.
For example, a 2010 poll showed that 74 percent of Americans believed the idea of reaching the American Dream was “largely true and possible.” The same amount also believed that success in America is more about working hard and less about luck.
Surprisingly, poll after poll indicated that people don’t view wealth or an affluent lifestyle as an important component of achieving the American Dream.
For example, a 2009 poll asked people which items they associated most with the American Dream. “Becoming rich” came in second to last.
So if wealth isn’t that important, what is? The resounding answer throughout the polls was freedom. In the same 2009 poll, the top answer was “being free to accomplish anything.”
When people were asked what the American Dream meant to them, the top answer for polls from 2005 and 2009 was “freedom/opportunity” – not homeownership, family, or financial wellbeing.
Just last year, people were asked what the American Dream means. Answers that got the most affirmative responses? “To have freedom of choice in how to live one’s life” and “to be rewarded for hard work.” This shows that people still view freedom, opportunity, and the ability to choose the path of their life over material goods or a stable lifestyle.
But the news isn’t all good. In a recent CNN/ORC poll, a majority of Americans said that they believed the American Dream was “impossible for most people to achieve.”
However, in previous polls referenced by the AEI study (and conducted by the same organization), 80 percent of Americans believed they have achieved or will achieve the American Dream.
This suggests that people may be more optimistic for their own lives than they are for society as a whole.
Clearly there is still room for improvement. The economy has taken its toll on optimism for future generations. According to the report, “Many do not expect young people to be better off than the current generation, to be as financially successful, or to have as many chances to get ahead.”
Time will tell whether this concern for the future is simply a result of the recession or a persistent downturn in public opinion.
There is still much to be done to ensure that we will pass down opportunities to our children. But as for now, it is apparent that Americans have not given up hope on pursuing the American Dream.
First published on Opportunity Lives.