The American Dream is still alive and well, but is more do-it-yourself than dreams of the past, according to the fifth annual MetLife Study of the American Dream.
The 2011 study found that, nationwide, three-quarters of Americans believe building a financial safety net is the key to their American dream, but 30 percent of those surveyed said they don’t believe their safety net is adequate. Generation Y is making progress, but nearly three in four Baby Boomers say they lack an adequate safety net.
A financial safety net includes savings to cover living expenses in the event of illness, job loss or other serious emergency, financial and protection products such as life, home and health insurance, annuities and retirement accounts.
The survey also gauges non-financial elements of the American Dream. It found that personal fulfillment, close friends and meaningful relationships continue to be the most important, overshadowing career and financial success.
“Times are tough, but people are adapting and pursuing their own version of the dream,” said Beth Hirschhorn, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for MetLife. “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.’”
Achieving the American Dream remains very important to those who have yet to achieve it, especially the younger generations. However, the study reveals that Americans no longer place importance on traditional elements of the Dream: 70 percent say you don’t have to be wealthy to achieve the Dream; 65 percent say you don’t need a college degree; 71 percent and 70 percent, respectively, say marriage and children aren’t essential; 59 percent say you don’t have to own a home.
Instead, Americans say that 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 percent of all Americans reported that they already have what they need, compared to only 58 percent who said the same in April 2010.
Gen Y places a high premium on relationships with 33 percent rating close friends and family as most important compared to just 23 percent who say it is most important to have a roof over their head.
A majority of those interviewed stated that their standard of living does not need to be higher than their parents’ to feel they have achieved the American Dream. More Americans say they are working harder than their parents did at their age. Twenty-six percent of Generation Y is working additional hours, 24 percent say they are freelancing and 21 percent say they are working second jobs to get ahead.
Twenty-seven percent of Baby Boomers said they would be willing to relocate for a job, and across generations, one-third said they would take a job they are overqualified for.
From Sept. 26 to Oct. 10, 2011, Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Strategy First Partners conducted 2,420 online surveys amongst the general population as part of the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream.
MetLife, Inc. provides insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 50 countries.