A Different Definition of the “American Dream” is Emerging

November 30, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A new American Dream that is less conventional and more personalized is emerging, according to the fifth annual MetLife Study of the American Dream.

The nationwide survey reveals that although the American Dream is alive across generations of Americans, they are replacing the traditional definition of the Dream with a “do-it-yourself” model as they forsake a more collective vision and build their own based upon personal values.  

MetLife’s 2011 Study also uncovers significant gaps in financial safety nets that help Americans achieve and protect their Dream, even as desire to build adequate safety nets remains strong. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe having a financial safety net is key to achieving the American Dream, yet only 30% feel theirs is adequate. Gen Y is making progress, but nearly three in four Baby Boomers, many nearing retirement, say they lack an adequate safety net.  

The non-financial elements of the Dream are also in clearer focus than ever before. These include personal fulfillment, close friends and meaningful relationships. Career and financial success have been overshadowed.  

Achieving the American Dream remains very important to those who have yet to achieve it, especially younger generations. However, the study reveals Americans no longer place importance on traditional elements of the Dream: 70% say you don’t have to be wealthy to achieve the Dream; 65% say you don’t need a college degree; 71% and 70%, respectively, say marriage and children aren’t essential and 59% percent say you don’t have to own a home.  

Instead, Americans say a sense of personal fulfillment is key in assessing whether they have achieved the Dream. Materialism, once symbolic of achievement, has waned significantly. In October 2011, 74% of all Americans reported they already have what they need, compared to only 58% who said the same in April 2010.  

Across generations, more Americans have difficulty choosing between a roof over their heads and having close friends and family. Gen Y places the highest premium on relationships with 33% rating close friends and family as most important compared to just 23% who say it is most important to have a roof over their head. Fifty-two percent of Gen Y also say the America Dream is more about personal achievement than opportunity for all.

Willing to Do More  

Regardless of whether the vision of the Dream is individualized or shared, the majority of 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. Still, this year, more Americans say they are working harder than their parents did at their age. Gen Y is working additional hours (26%), freelancing (24%) and working second jobs (21%) to get ahead. More than one-quarter (27%) of Baby Boomers are willing to relocate to another part of the country to sustain or achieve the American Dream. Across generations, one-third will take a job they are overqualified for.  

While most Americans recognize the importance of having a financial safety net, achieving one is proving extremely difficult, with only 30% of all Americans saying that they have an adequate safety net in place. Living paycheck to paycheck tops the list of issues preventing Americans from achieving an adequate safety net, with more than half identifying it as the top issue standing in their way. A weak retirement savings plan follows a close second for 50% of Baby Boomers, and younger generations say they are not making enough money to build a financial safety net.  

From September 26 to October 10 2011, Penn Schoen Berland, in partnership with Strategy First Partners, conducted 2,420 online surveys among the general population as part of the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream. This is the fifth annual edition of the study.  

Download the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream at www.metlife.com/americandream.