5 Myths You Shouldn’t Believe About The American Dream

Ed BurghardAnd so even though we still face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.

Martin Luther King Jr.


Everybody seems to think they know what the American Dream is.  Recent headlines in the news media would have you believe the American Dream is to own a home, or create a successful business, or accumulate wealth.  The truth however is that the American Dream is not just one thing, it is more complex than that.

Xavier University has conducted research that actually quantifies the American Dream.  I have written on this a number of times, and encourage you to read some of my earlier blog posts to better understand what actually makes up the American Dream.  In this post, I want to debunk several pervasive myths about the American Dream.  The data I will quote is from the Xavier University Center For Study of The American Dream National Survey (n > 1,300 adults).  Hopefully, it will peak your interest into learning more about the Xavier University work and what the American Dream is really all about.

5 Surprising Myths

#1 – The American Dream is About Getting Rich

  • Only 6% of respondents ranked “wealth” as their first or second definition of the American Dream
  • 45% of respondents named “a good life for my family”
  • 34% of respondents said “financial security”
  • 32% of respondents indicated “freedom”
  • 21% of respondents cited “pursuit of happiness”

#2 – Homeownership is The American Dream

  • Only 7% surveyed ranked “home ownership” as their first or second definition of the American Dream
  • The Federal Government and the Media has overruled this as the definition f the American Dream

#3 – The American Dream is American

  • It is actually a phrase coined by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic of America”
  • It is a dream established by immigrants

#4 – China Threatens The American Dream

  • 57% of respondents believe “the world now looks to many different countries to represent the future”
  • Neither China nor these other countries can be blamed for US choices that have placed our financial future increasingly out of our hands

#5 – Distrust of Business and Government is Killing The American Dream

  • 65% of respondents believe America is in decline
  • 89% of respondents say they have less trust in the government
  • 79% of respondents indicate they have less trust in business
  • 72% of respondents say trust in media is declining
  • Despite all this, 63% of respondents say they are confident they will attain their American Dream

 Why Does it Matter?

I write about the American Dream because it is the promise of Brand America.  And in order to be effective, that promise must be authentic.  I worry that both globally and domestically, Brand America’s promise is increasingly seen as inauthentic.  And without a clear understanding of what the American Dream actually is, attempts to address the issues will inevitably result in failure (or worse still will exacerbate the problem).

I think the job of our elected officials and economic development professionals is to better enable the residents they serve to achieve their American Dream.  And, the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) powered by dunnhumby is a quantitative way to assess if they are being successful or not.  I have worked with Xavier University to make the data available at both the state and major MSA level.  This allows a meaningful comparison between locations on how well residents feel they are achieving their American Dream.  I encourage you to download both reports and learn how well you Governor or Mayor is doing.  These results should be taken into consideration before you enter the voting booth.  It is time we hold elected officials directly accountable to the residents they serve.  The ADCI data allows you to do just that.


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