What’s The Current State Of The American Dream? (Infographic)

A recent study shows we’re less hopeful about achieving the “American Dream,” but that the dream itself is shifting into something new.


What do we consider “living the dream” today?


Personal freedom and having basic needs met top the list. In 2004–the birth year of Facebook, a second-term W., and Janet’s legendary nip-slip–we felt more optimistic about our dreams than we do now. How is that possible? And what are we doing to compensate for it?

Writer James Truslow Adams coined the term “American dream” in 1931, calling it “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,” according to The Atlantic. Whether that’s the definition we imagine today, it’s time to reevaluate what our dream lifestyle looks like in 2014.

In March and April, researchers from PolicyInteractive for the environmental and social justice group Center for a New American Dream polled 1,821 U.S. citizens over the age of 18 about their perceptions of the economy, environment, advertising, health care, and more–following up on the same questions from 10 years ago.


Education and health care put our dreams out of reach

Most Americans see their personal goals as less attainable than they were a decade ago. Inaccessibly expensive necessities, such as education and health care, are to blame, according to the study:

When asked about the major reasons why the American Dream seemed unattainable, Americans indicated the following as the top reasons:

  • The high cost of education: 72.2%
  • The high cost of health care: 71.8%
  • Wages for workers are too low: 67.2%

Happiness at work means doing less of it

Even as debts from student loans and insurance costs rise higher than ever, more than a third of Americans are choosing to take a pay cut in order to improve their quality of life. They quit working outside the home, took a different job, or worked less hours, and don’t regret it:

Overwhelmingly, those Americans who have taken these steps feel positively about their action:

  • I’m happy about the change and I don’t miss the extra income much: 21.2%
  • I’m happy about the change, but I miss the extra income: 39.2%
  • Losing the income was a real hardship, but I’m still happy about the change: 25.9%

Sharing is the new economy

“Over half of respondents believe that sharing lowers environmental impact, builds community, and helps save money,” the study states. Most of those surveyed said sharing services and goods is a friendship-builder and a money-saver.


Millennials are on board with the sharing economy, at a rate double that of Gen X or Baby Boomers surveyed. Bike-sharing services and peer-to-peer lodging are a win-win for twentysomethings today, especially, who are looking for more ways to connect with each other and leave as small a footprint in the process.

And they’re more optimistic for it:

When asked if it would possible to achieve the American Dream in their lifetime, Millennials are far more optimistic that their Gen X or Baby Boomer counterparts, in spite of entering the workforce during an economic recession:

  • 18-24: 54.1%
  • 25-34: 46.8%

See more details about the study results, including environmental issues and breakdowns of the surveys, in the slideshow above.


About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.