A Closer Look at The American Dream

Ed Burghard“Fundamentally, the American Dream is about hope – the hope that every individual of whatever status has the chance to be all that he or she can be.”

Dr. Greg Smith and Roger Fortin

Defining the American Dream is a real challenge.  That is why Xavier University’s work is so impressive and important.  It is the first quantitative look at the American Dream in its entirety.  The research took several years to complete and takes into account all aspects of a person’s life.

As background, the output of the research is a statistically validated questionnaire that is used to measure respondent sentiment about 139 statements.  Responses to these statements comprise 35 dimensions (or mini-dreams) that ultimately reflect how the respondent feels about:

  • Satisfaction, freedom and progress with respect to their finances, job, home ownership and health care.
  • Contentment, health and prosperity.
  • Perception of fairness and trust in government, businesses and people.
  • Attitude toward assimilation of diversity.
  • Extent of pollution in air, food and water encountered regularly.

Unlike other measures that look at slices of life, the Xavier University research takes a 360-degree look at life.  The research is reported monthly as a total measure (American Dream Composite Index™ [ADCI] powered by dunnhumby) and five sub-indexes (Economic, Well-Being, Societal, Diversity, Environmental).

ADCI Over Time

The ADCI and sub-index scores have been fairly consistent over time.  Overall, the gains in resident sentiment have been slow but steady.  As a nation, residents feel best about their community’s ability to value diversity and worst about the trustworthiness/fairness of businesses and government.

ADCI Over Time jpeg

Monthly ADCI

At any point in time, the ADCI and sub-indexes provide a snap shot of how residents of the United States feel about the degree to which they are achieving their American Dream.  For example, in February 2014, the data is:

INDEXES

Feb 2014 Data

ADCI

64.58

Economic

63.10

Well-Being

69.90

Societal

52.58

Diversity

75.23

Environmental

68.87

A quick look at the data suggests:

  • There is 35.5% of the American Dream yet to be realized by residents.
  • The greatest improvement opportunity is in the extent residents trust government, business and people.

A deeper look at the dimension data can help deliver insights on which specific areas are driving the sentiment.  This insight can inform strategy design and deployment so can positively impact the results.

ADCI and Age

Feb 2014 Data

AGE GROUPS

INDEXES

18-24

25-34

35-44

45-54

55-64

65+

ADCI

63.84

63.41

62.69

62.07

66.24

69.59

Economic

60.91

60.92

60.15

58.99

65.54

72.08

Well-Being

68.45

68.27

67.87

67.74

71.96

75.11

Societal

55.75

54.49

51.41

50.03

51.90

54.16

Diversity

74.26

73.79

74.44

74.93

77.72

76.20

Environmental

61.00

59.94

69.33

69.83

73.27

75.51

ADCI and Gender

Feb 2014 Data

SEX

INDEXES

MALE

FEMALE

ADCI

65.35

63.98

Economic

65.77

61.12

Well-Being

69.58

70.07

Societal

54.17

51.42

Diversity

73.12

76.75

Environmental

68.80

68.92

 ADCI and Race

Feb 2014 Data

SELF REPORTED RACE

INDEXES

WHITE

BLACK

HISPANIC

ADCI

64.72

64.43

64.18

Economic

63.49

62.33

62.39

Well-Being

70.03

69.17

69.75

Societal

52.29

54.09

52.82

Diversity

75.21

76.74

74.69

Environmental

70.80

62.27

64.11

 ADCI and Income

Feb 2014 Data

INCOME GROUPS

INDEXES

Under $20K

$20K – $39.9K

$40K – $59.9K

$60K – $79.9K

$80K – $99.9K

$100K or More

ADCI

56.62

61.41

67.26

67.69

67.52

71.92

Economic

48.73

58.34

67.17

67.94

69.68

75.91

Well-Being

62.90

67.42

72.29

73.04

70.97

76.28

Societal

46.89

49.02

55.12

54.46

57.02

58.00

Diversity

74.41

73.93

76.12

76.87

72.97

77.00

Environmental

66.69

69.11

69.48

70.06

66.77

70.59

ADCI and Employment

Feb 2014 Data

SELF-DEFINED EMPLOYMENT STATUS

INDEXES

Disabled

Full Time

Part Time

Student or Homemaker

Retired

Unemployed

ADCI

55.99

65.54

64.00

62.30

69.37

56.10

Economic

46.81

65.78

59.64

56.62

72.14

49.53

Well-Being

63.60

70.03

69.76

69.10

74.84

61.58

Societal

45.25

53.70

53.21

51.86

53.79

47.78

Diversity

75.43

74.79

77.82

74.91

76.01

70.57

Environmental

64.58

67.10

69.69

70.48

74.17

64.68

 Discussion

Because the American Dream is actually a compilation of many dreams, it is important to understand how different demographic groups feel about the degree to which they are realizing their American Dream.

From the above data, you can make some general observations:

  • Lack of trust in government, businesses and people is universal.  No single demographic group is dramatically more distrustful.  It would seem then that any strategies intended to improve trust would have a broad based impact.
  • Age has an impact on the degree to which residents feel their American Dream is being achieved.  It would be trite to simply conclude the older a person gets the more time they have had to realize their American Dream. What if the sentiment of the senior population in your community is scoring lower than the national numbers?  You will likely need to find strategies that have more immediate impact if you want to enable these residents to better achieve their American Dream.
  • Women seem to feel better about their community’s attitude toward assimilation of diversity than men do.  Perhaps the women in your community could be a helpful resource for any strategies you develop to improve sentiment around valuing diversity.
  • White residents seem to encounter less environmental pollution than Black or Hispanic residents.  If you are going to try and create strategies to address a low sentiment score on environment, you may want to seek to deeply understand (e.g. over sample in your research) the drivers of both the Black and Hispanic sentiment in your community.
  • Depending on income level, the sentiment regarding the degree to which a person believes his/her American Dream is being realized varies.  Under $40K and over $100K per year seem to be break point levels.
  • As you might expect a priori, but certainly worth restating, the disabled and unemployed residents appear to be having the hardest time achieving their American Dream.

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3 Comments so far

  1. Reg Radke

    March 12, 2014

    Following the ACDI with interest, from a rural Canadian perspective. This snapshot of the Feb data is interesting to see the demographic breakdown, but also to begin to see trends.

  2. […] “The Burghard Group | Strengthening Brand America http://t.co/iyawf18fvz #ADCI #XavierU Interesting data and trends.”  […]

  3. […] ““Fundamentally, the American Dream is about hope – the hope that every individual of whatever status has the chance to be all that he or she can be.” Dr. Greg Smith and Roger Fortin. Defining the American Dream is a real challenge.”  […]

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