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What is the American Dream?

What is the American Dream?

The American dream is a concept of hope, promise, and prosperity to people far and wide across the world. The concept originally comes from James Truslow Adams, a historian who coined the term in a 1931 book during the time of the Great Depression. According to Adams, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (Amadeo). Despite the clear definition from the man who invented the idea, the concept has become drastically intertwined with the notion that success comes solely in the form of wealth. Consequently, fulfilling the American Dream has lead many to believe that obtaining a large house, accumulating luxury items, and a having a high salary are the essential criteria for the dream. As times change, from one generation to the next, the American Dream is slowly reforming and becoming a concept that no longer measures success on a numerical merit, but on how each individual determines prosperity on a intrapersonal level.

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In the New York Times editorial, “America the shrunken” by Frank Bruni, the author initially raises the question to a friend of his, of whether or not his children will be more successful than him, with the aid of more resources and opportunities. The friend bluntly responds with a “no,” following up that in order to continue to provide for the inadequate situation, he hopes to leave money for his kids. With this response, it evidently displays that the United States heavily revolves around economics and the essential need for money before opportunity and quality of life.  According to the National Journal and Allstate “Heartland Monitor Poll,” 20% of Americans believed that their children would have more doors for success, while another 45% believed that the children would not, and would have overall less opportunity (Bruni). With these stunning statistics, it would appear that the bright, idealized American Dream is going into decline with past generations recognizing the issue along with the present ones.

The American Dream has believed to have declined for the past few decades now, with the rise of economic inequality in the late 1970s heavily contributing to the issue. From a Stanford professor and his or her colleagues, an American Dream index had been created, being compiled of data that shows how much money a child earned in comparison to their parents at the same age. The index find that, “For babies born in 1980 – today’s 36-year olds – the index of the American dream has fallen to 50 percent: Only half of them make as much money as their parents did” (Leonhardt). Additionally, the states in the Midwest that had elected Donald Trump as President, had lower salaries than the national average. Aside from the data showing the present disparities of wealth and income, the reputation of the United States economy has fallen as well. Gallup Poll participants believied that China was the world’s number one economy followed by the U.S. in 2014. The results for China versus the U.S. was 52% to 31%, meaning that “less” than 1 in 3 Americans believed the States were still the leading world economy, even though it still was (Bruni). “The rise of inequality has damaged the American dream more than the growth of the slowdown,” -Nathaniel Hendren (Leonhardt).

Comparatively, the American Dream truly was a dream to obtain post-Depression period, as people still had a good quality of life even though their salaries were less than idea. “About 92 percent of 1940 babies had higher pretax inflation-adjusted household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age,” Stanford researcher, David Grusky declares (Leonhardt). This trend of increased opportunity continued up until the 1970s when economic inequality had arisen in addition to the globalization, technological boom, and the general drop of the workforce’s education and skill level. To make matters worse, the wealthy continued to grow, limiting economic and social growth for the middle-class, and expanding the disparity for the lower classes. In this day of age, the American Dream becomes more and more unattainable since there is next to nothing left that remains.

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While the traditional American Dream still stands today, as it will inevitably be intertwined with our nation’s history and culture, it will reform and adapt to the next generations’ needs and desires. Once, American’s dreams consisted of freedom and prosperity, with people traveling across the world to a foreign land in hopes for a better life; free from religious persecution, poverty, and war. Later, people strove for dreams and material riches. Now, people aspire for change and desires that go beyond physical wealth, be it a chance for a higher education, a better life for their future family, or perhaps, a chance to change society and make it a better place. The American Dream is no longer solely about luxuries and wealth, but is about personal success, achievement, and the ways to pursue it outside the material realm.

Works Cited

  • Amadeo, Kimberly. “What IS the American Dream? The History That Made It Possible.” the balance, 13 June 2019, Accessed 23 June 2019.
  • Bruni, Frank. “America the shrunken.” New York Times, 4 May 2014, p. 3(L). Global Issues in Context, Accessed 23 June 2019.
  • Leonhardt, David. “The American Dream, Quantified at Last.” New York Times, 11 Dec. 2016, p. 2 (L). Global Issues in Context. // Accessed 23 June 2019.


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