The concept of the “American Dream” may be older than America itself. It can be traced back as far as 1630, when John Winthrop gave his “city upon a hill” sermon to his fellow Puritan colonists as they sailed to Massachusetts. The idea that America could be a place where everyone had an opportunity for prosperity and happiness is what the United States was founded on (with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, since black people were enslaved and women couldn’t vote). But while we’ve had the notion for over 300 years, it wasn’t until 1931 that we got the phrase: historian James Truslow Adams popularized the idea of the “American Dream” in his book The Epic of America.
Since then, popular culture has latched on to the idea of the American Dream as some combination of getting married, holding down a good job from which you can retire, owning a nice house, and having 2.5 kids.
But what does the American Dream mean in 2018?
Lately, American employers are adding jobs at a fast clip across a wide range of industries. Yet economists have struggled to explain why wages aren’t rising as quickly as the trend-lines would suggest they ought to. Indeed, wage stagnation has been the common theme among U.S. workers for at least the past three decades; income inequality is getting worse; and the tax overhaul President Trump signed into law last winter is expected to benefit tech giants and rich people who don’t work more than poor people who do. To make matters worse, contract work, persistent gender and racial pay gaps, lack of nationwide protections like paid family leave, and other factors are conspiring to withhold the bulk of the country’s recent economic gains from most of the workers who’ve contributed to them.
All these changes are impacting how Americans plan for the future and think about success. Many Americans of all ages are finding circumstances, at least as much as their own values, reshaping their notions of “success.” When LinkedIn recently asked users to reflect on that word, the top response was “not living paycheck-to-paycheck.”
So this Independence Day, Fast Company wants to hear from you: How does your definition of the American Dream differ from your parents’?
We’ll share the results over the 4th of July weekend.