The American dream is the idea that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success. It is believed to be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance.
However, if you take a look at social media, you will stumble upon posts where people claim the American Dream has turned into a nightmare. They criticize healthcare, nepotism, education and real estate prices, and, of course, inequality.
And they might have a point. While 90% of the children born in 1940 ended up in higher ranks of the income distribution than their parents, only 40% of those born in 1980 have done the same. Of course, it's tough to compare two very different periods and draw hard conclusions but you can't ignore such studies too.
Jim Cullen, U.S. cultural historian and author of The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, got interested in this subject due to his belief that it has been the great mythic glue of American society for much of U.S. history. "The notion that this nation is a place where the pursuit of happiness is a legitimate and plausible enterprise has been something a wide variety of people from all walks of life from around the world have endorsed and embraced, and that's because in many times and places this has not been the case," Cullen told Bored Panda.
"As I make clear in my book, the American Dream has in fact taken many forms. For most people, it's assumed to be economic mobility. But religious freedom, political equality, homeownership, and racial justice have long been a part of the story. It isn't solely about money."
Cullen thinks the American Dream is now in less repute than it has been in large measure because many Americans now consider outcomes more important than aspiration or opportunity. "The American Dream has never been about guarantees, but anything less is now often seen as fraudulence," he said. "Yet that was never really the basis of the myth, and using the postwar World War II world as a benchmark, when the nation had a unique imperial dominance and affluence, is a somewhat misleading benchmark from which to measure the success and validity of the Dream."
The American Dream
The American Dream
However, not everyone agrees with this line of thought. D.L. Mayfield, the author of The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power, grew up within white evangelicalism in the US. She was always told that both her country and her religion were good news for everyone. But as she grew older and met people outside of her community, she made up her mind that this simply was not true. "My city of Portland, OR, was actually a really hard place to live for a lot of people. When I started working for recently arrived refugees, I experienced this disconnect, and my eyes were opened to what an unequal and segregated city I lived in," she told Bored Panda.
"I sum the American Dream as the philosophy that anyone can make it in the US if only they work hard enough. This is a doubly damaging philosophy, however: for people of privilege, it reinforces the idea that they have made positive choices and deserve to be rewarded. Conversely, if people are unable to 'make it' in the US, privileged people can now blame them and say it's a result of poor individual choices instead of looking at systemic issues (racism, sexism, capitalism)."
The American Dream
There's No Such Thing As The "American Dream". They Just Want Us All To Believe It Could "Happen To Us" While Every System Is Designed To Keep Poor People Poor And Rich People Rich.
American linguist, philosopher, and social critic Noam Chomsky, for example, says that the American Dream has collapsed. In the past, if you were poor and you worked hard, you got rich. According to Chomsky, it was possible for a worker to get a decent job, buy a home, get a car, have his children go to school. But that is no longer the case.
In the movie Requiem for the American Dream, Chomsky explained how he thinks concentrated wealth creates concentrated power, which legislates further concentration of wealth, which then concentrates more power in a vicious cycle. He listed and elaborated on ten principles of the concentration of wealth and power in the film, principles that the wealthy of the United States have acted intensely on for 40 years or more, principles that, according to him, have killed the American dream.
The Death Of The American Dream (2008)
Chomsky argued that the problem with inequality at the scale it is developing in the United States is that it is corrosive to democracy and that the history of democracy in the United States from the time of the founding fathers, has been a cyclical battle between the elite, trying to protect its position in power, and sporadic uprisings of working people and the marginalized in protest.
"The hatred and anger [towards] virtually all institutions is just overwhelming," Chomsky said in a 2016 interview. "Support for Congress has pretty much been in single digits for many years. There is tremendous anger, disillusionment, fear ... if it does not take a constructive, organized form, as it did in the 1930s and to an extent in the 1960s, it could be a very threatening development."
The American Dream
The American Dream According To The 2nd Highest Paid Player In The Nfl
Requiem For The American Dream
But what do the people say? In 2018, the American Enterprise Institute and political scientist Samuel J. Abrams joined forces with the research center NORC at the University of Chicago and surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,411 Americans about their attitudes toward community and society.
"What our survey found about the American dream came as a surprise to me," Abrams wrote. "When Americans were asked what makes the American dream a reality, they did not select as essential factors becoming wealthy, owning a home, or having a successful career. Instead, 85 percent indicated that 'to have freedom of choice in how to live' was essential to achieving the American dream. In addition, 83 percent indicated that 'a good family life' was essential."
What many consider 'traditional' factors were actually seen as less important. Only 16 percent said that to achieve the American dream, they believed it was essential to 'become wealthy.' Additionally, only 45 percent said it was essential 'to have a better quality of life than your parents,' and just 49 percent said that 'having a successful career' was key.
This pattern — seeing the American dream as more about community and individuality than material success and social mobility — appeared across demographic and political categories. So is the American Dream dead? No. Is it suffering? Probably.