The American Dream — at least what it seems to have become over the past three or four decades — is getting a bit of an overhaul.
In times of great prosperity, the American Dream symbolized pursuit of upward prosperity, a rationale that the more effort you invested in your work life the better life you would be able to lead.
Yet, in times of financial uncertainty through the years, the dream has been interrupted and redefined. A recent study by MetLife indicates that Americans may now be going through one of those reassessments and setting aside aspirations of upward prosperity.
The survey of more than 2,400 reveals an emerging trend that shows Americans are less concerned with material issues and that life’s traditional markers of success – getting married and having a family, buying a house and building wealth – have taken a backseat to the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
That’s not to say individuals don’t still take their careers seriously, but indicates that climbing the corporate ladder or attaining business success is less important than having a grounded and satisfying personal life.
MetLife calls it the “Do-It-Yourself American Dream” that is enabling individuals to define their values.
The survey shows that 70 percent of people no longer think you have to be wealthy to achieve the Dream, while 65 percent don’t think you need a college degree, and 70 percent think marriage and children are not an essential component. A big surprise; 59 percent don’t thinking owning a home is as important.
Individuals instead want to pour more time into developing meaningful relationships and finding personal fulfillment. “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,’” says Beth Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer for MetLife.
The survey reports that in October 74 percent of Americans said they already have what they need in material goods, compared to only 58 percent who said the same thing just 18 months ago.
Although unwilling to make a lot of sacrifices to get ahead, the study finds, individuals will still work hard at their jobs – or even second jobs – but don’t feel that working just to get ahead will actually get them ahead.
More than one in five of Generation Y – those in their 20s and 30s – are working extra hours, freelancing or working second jobs to get ahead. Yet, for the first time in many years, Americans say their standard of living does not need to be higher than their parents’ in order to feel they have achieved the American Dream.
One-third of Americans say they would be willing to take a job that they are overqualified for if that was all that was available. There still is a desire for financial security among Americans. MetLife says so much of the population is living paycheck to paycheck that while they may be happy today, they are not investing and saving enough for retirement later in their lives.
Thirty percent say they have not attained financial security while 50 percent of Baby Boomers – the generation edging into retirement years – say they haven’t saved enough for retirement.
The good thing about the American Dream is that each individual has the freedom to choose how they define it and how much time and energy they want to invest in its pursuit.