Last updated: 15:59 / Thursday, 30 June 2016
Northwestern Mutual Study

The American Dream: Happiness and Security Are Valued Considerably More Than Wealth

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The American Dream: Happiness and Security Are Valued Considerably More Than Wealth
  • Two-thirds (66%) of U.S. adults believe that they can attain 'The American Dream', and only 16% feel it is out of reach
  • Happiness and security are valued considerably more than wealth, opportunity and moving up in social class
  • Nearly a third of U.S. adults said they do not feel financially secure

According to a research recently released by Northwestern Mutual, two-thirds (66%) of U.S. adults believe that they can attain 'The American Dream', and only 16% feel it is out of reach.  That said, the study also revealed some interesting nuances about how perceptions of The American Dream have changed, and not just generation over generation. A third (31%) of Americans say their definition of The American Dream has changed in just the last five years; and more than half (57%) say their view of The American Dream is different than how their parents viewed it.

In today's view of The American Dream, happiness and security are valued considerably more than wealth, opportunity and moving up in social class.  When asked about the most defining characteristics of The American Dream today, the top two answers were: "Having a happy family life" (59%); and "Being financially secure" (58%).

This far outweighed some of the more traditional notions of The American Dream, including: "Having more opportunities than my parents' generation" (18%); "Having wealth/making a lot of money" (11%); and "Moving up in social class" (3%).

Interestingly, a full three-quarters of Americans (74%) say they would not swap the lifestyle and financial situation they have today for what their parents had when they were the same age. 

"The goal today seems to be more about outcomes – happiness, security and peace of mind rather than material wealth or the opportunity to advance," said Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning and sales at the firm.  

Financial Insecurity 
While long-term optimism in the attainability of The American Dream is positive, there is also considerable evidence showing that many people do not feel financially secure in the present, and are not bringing high levels of discipline to their financial planning.  The study found that nearly a third of U.S. adults (29%) said they do not feel financially secure; Only one in five (21%) Americans consider themselves to be "highly disciplined" financial planners; A third (34%) consider themselves "disciplined" planners; Another third (33%) consider themselves "informal"; And more than one in ten (12%) "do not plan at all" and "have not set any financial goals". 

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