- Seventy-four percent say equality of opportunity is an essential part
- Majorities say five of 10 possible aspects of American dream are essential
- Least essential: having a better lifestyle than parents
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Almost three-fourths of U.S. investors (74%) say equality of opportunity is an “essential” part of the American dream — the highest percentage among 10 tested aspects of the dream. Overall, investors consider nonmaterial goals such as having a good education (63%) or achieving one’s full potential (58%) as more essential to the American dream than material goals such as having a better standard of living than one’s parents (26%) or achieving financial success (46%).
Defining What Is Essential to the American Dream
“How important is each of the following to your idea of the American dream? Is it essential, important but not essential, or not important?”
|Essential||Important, but not essential||Not important|
|Having equality of opportunity||74||23||3|
|Having a good education||63||33||4|
|Achieving your full potential||58||40||2|
|Making a positive difference in the world||57||37||6|
|Owning your own home||55||38||7|
|Having a job you love||47||48||5|
|Achieving financial success||46||49||5|
|Having a better standard of living than your parents||26||56||18|
|WELLS FARGO/GALLUP, AUG. 13-20, 2018|
The third-quarter Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, conducted Aug. 13-20, measured the importance investors place on 10 aspects of the American dream, drawn from a broad spectrum of perspectives. Gallup and Wells Fargo define U.S. investors as adults with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either within or outside of a retirement savings account.
All 10 goals measured are deemed by most investors as either essential or important to their idea of the American dream, but majorities value just five at the highest level — as essential. The 10 possible dream components fall into four types of goals:
Nonmaterial personal goals: Three nonmaterial goals tested in the survey are among the most likely to be considered essential: “having a good education,” “achieving your full potential” and “making a positive difference in the world.” The other nonmaterial goal — “having a job you love” — is essential to slightly less than a majority (47%).
Material goals: Among three material personal goals measured — “owning your own home,” “achieving financial success” and “having a better standard of living than your parents” — only homeownership is deemed essential by a majority (55%).
Lifestyle arrangements: The two lifestyle choices included on the list — getting married and raising children — do not receive majority “essential” mentions, and they are the two components most often listed as “not important” — 26% for getting married and 21% for raising children.
Societal value: The component most often mentioned as essential is the only one that is an aspiration for American society rather than the individual — “having equality of opportunity.” That goal, which echoes the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal” and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, has resonated with Americans across decades of polls testing it as both a national and a personal moral code.
Young Investors More Likely to List American Dream Possibilities as Essential
Investors under the age of 50 are more likely than those 65 and older, by a margin of at least 10 percentage points, to list four personal goals as essential to their concept of the American dream. Two of these are nonmaterial (achieving your full potential and making a positive difference in the world) and two are material (achieving financial success and owning your own home).
Younger Investors Lead the Way in Labeling Dream Goals Essential
Percentage of U.S. investors, by age, who consider each of the following “essential” to their idea of the American dream
|18-49||50-64||65+||Difference between 18-49 and 65+|
|Achieving financial success||50||44||38||+12|
|Achieving your full potential||62||56||51||+11|
|Making a positive difference in the world||61||54||51||+10|
|Owning your own home||56||60||46||+10|
|Having a better standard of living than your parents||28||25||22||+6|
|Having equality of opportunity||75||72||74||+1|
|Having a good education||64||57||67||-3|
|Having a job you love||45||48||50||-5|
|WELLS FARGO/GALLUP, AUG. 13-20, 2018|
Investors aged 50-64 are slightly more likely than the other two age groups to list owning a home (60%) and getting married (33%) as essential.
Over Half of Investors Have Achieved American Dream Themselves
More than half (55%) of investors believe they have achieved what they consider to be the American dream. Over a third (36%) expect to achieve it someday, and 10% don’t expect to achieve it.
For investors 65 and older, more than six out of seven (87%) believe they have achieved their version of the American dream — significantly more than for investors 50-64 (59%) or younger than 50 (39%). But the vast majority in each of these last two age groups say they have achieved it or expect to do so someday — 91% of those 50-64 and 89% of those younger than 50.
When James Truslow Adams first coined the phrase “The American dream” in his 1931 book “The Epic of America,” he downplayed the material aspects, instead describing it as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Almost 90 years later, American investors seem to agree with those priorities for what constitutes the American dream, tending to find nonmaterial goals more essential than material ones to their personal vision of achieving the dream.
Learn more about how the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index works.