Two-Thirds of Americans Believe ‘The American Dream’ Is Attainable

But their definition of what it means has dramatically changed to focus on family and security.

Sixty-six percent of Americans believe they can achieve “The American Dream,” according to the 2016 Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study. Only 16% think it is out of reach.

However, nearly one-third (31%) say that their definition of what The American Dream means has changed in the past five years, and 57% think it will be different from how their parents viewed it. Americans first define living The American Dream as having a happy family life (59%), closely followed by being financially secure (58%).

These goals far outweigh traditional notions of success, such as having more opportunities than their parents’ generation (18%), making a lot of money and attaining wealth (11%) and moving up in social class (3%).

“The goal today seems to be more about outcomes—happiness, security and peace of mind rather than material wealth or the opportunity to advance,” says Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning and sales at Northwestern Mutual. “The white picket fence is still important, but today, Americans seem to care more about what’s going on inside the house.”

The study also showed a dichotomy between faith in The American Dream and Americans’ sense of financial security. Twenty-nine percent do not feel financially secure. Only 21% think of themselves as “highly disciplined” when it comes to planning their finances, but 33% consider themselves “disciplined.” Twelve percent “have not set any financial goals.”

These findings are in line with the 2015 Northwestern Mutual Planning & Progress Study, which found that 21% are “not at all confident” they will be able to reach their financial goals.

Barsch adds: “Financial security has emerged as the very pillar of The American Dream today, and a distinct catalyst toward leading a happy life. But there’s a disconnect between how the relatively small steps of solid planning and strong discipline can lead to big strides toward achieving that American Dream. Optimism is great, but it needs to be backed up with consistent action.”

Harris Poll conducted this year’s online survey among 2,646 American adults for Northwestern Mutual between February 1 and February 10.

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