Press release – September 21, 2016
Discovering the New American Dream, an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report sponsored by IKEA US shows that the American Dream, which was once outlined by owning a home with a ‘white picket fence,’ having a comfortable amount of money, and ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ is now transitioning into ‘living life on one’s own terms.’ The new dream is defined by quality of life experiences; 57% of Americans say the dream is more about quality of life, as opposed to 20% citing material possessions. More than half (57%) cited spending time with family and friends as the way they are currently living the American Dream.
The EIU report also shows that Americans continue to believe in the value of hard work to achieve success, but the measurement of this success is now based on one’s personal goals, not necessarily those set by society.
- 65% believe ‘the American Dream’ is more personal today, less about society’s goals
- 76% believe the expression of the American Dream is as diverse as the people in America
- 72% of Americans believe they are in some way living the American dream today, while 76% think the dream is a journey and not an end goal
Alex, a 28-year-old woman who lives on a farm co-op in Madison, Wisconsin, embodies this new view of living on one’s own. “Having the freedom to do what I want, take on projects that I want, and to make a difference is really important to me. I can’t be happy in a job that doesn’t allow me to do these things—regardless of the pay check. I live in a co-op because I need that human connection and sense of collaboration,” Alex said. “My favorite parts of any day are spontaneous adventures with the people I love.”
It’s not just what defines the American Dream that is marking this transformation, but rather what people are striving for overall. With regard to the pervasive challenges to success, the EIU study cites:
- The recession of 2008 changed people’s expectations of the ‘American Dream’ according to seven in ten Americans. This is felt more strongly in the middle income bracket ($50,000–$75,000), where 74% believe this, compared with 63% of those in the lowest income bracket and 70% of those in the highest.
- The majority of Americans also agree that “the cost of living today makes it harder to see how one can achieve the American Dream” (78%) and that “college is no longer a guarantee to living the American Dream” (72%).
- Some Americans have fears about “being able to retire comfortably” with fewer than half (42%) believing it’s possible. Those in the lowest income bracket see it as even less achievable (32%).
“It’s confirming to know that the new American Dream is about ‘living life on your own terms,’ because we have always embraced this mindset. We believe all homes are created equal, and we are committed to the many people by producing well-designed, quality, functional and affordable home furnishings that accommodate their diverse lifestyles and wallets. Everyone deserves a home that they love, that is sustainable, looks good and works well – and where they can live happily with family and friends. We understand cost of living hikes and that college tuition is sky high, but no matter what the dream, we want to help our customers achieve it,” stated Lars Petersson, IKEA US president.
“The American Dream can seem very diverse, and today the dream and definitions of success takes many forms, but at the core there is a similarity: to be happy. The means of acquiring the American Dream is the biggest change. For example, more than 70% no longer see college as a guarantee to the American Dream, so we see people are developing new workarounds and goals,” commented Rebecca Lipman, editor of the Discovering the New American Dream EIU report.
On the upside, 77% believe technology has opened new doors for people to achieve their American Dream. A little over half (53%) believe the sharing economy will open up more opportunities for Americans to reach financial prosperity.
These foundational elements of the America Dream today are shared to varying degrees across income levels, generations, political affiliations, and genders. Looking ahead, a majority (62%) of Americans believe being treated equally regardless of one’s background and the freedom to live as they choose will define the American dream for future generations. As time has passed, generations have shaped the American Dream based on the current state of the country, but at its core, it has remained steadfast in the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ What defines happiness is what has truly changed.
This report captures the perspectives of Americans of all different backgrounds to explain what the age-old term, American Dream, means to today’s society and how it will continue to evolve. It is based on a survey of 2,050 individuals from all regions of the country of varying ages, ethnicities and incomes, providing a balanced representation of the U.S. as a whole.
> A New York Times article published on October 30 describes how IKEA US implemented these insights in offerings, positioning and advertising.