Are You Ever Too Old To Achieve The American Dream?

SBA ImageToday Is The Oldest You’ve Been, And The Youngest You Will Ever Be Again.

Quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

Differences Between Age Group Achievement of the American Dream

Overall reported achievement of the American Dream is not the same between generations and  there are notable differences in the self-reported level of achievement among the 35 dimensions (sub-dreams) that statistically define the American Dream.  But, you are never to old to make progress in achieving your American Dream.


Xavier University has created the American Dream Composite Index (ADCI). It is the first statistically validated measure of the American Dream. The ADCI is a comprehensive measure that quantifies the American Dream in its entirety, taking into account all aspects of the lives of residents in the United States.

Each month, some 1,000 respondents—representative of the US population—respond to 139 statements pertaining to various aspects of the American Dream. Responses to these statements comprise the 35 ADCI dimensions that ultimately make-up the ADCI.


This analysis looks at a data set comprised of 12,268 responses (450 age 18-24, 1,527 age 25-34, 2,357 age 35-44, 2,693 age 45-54, 2,223 age 55-64, 3,018 age 65+) from across the Nation over the period of January 2014 – December 2014. The scores across the 35 dimensions were compared versus Nation. Simplistically, an index of 95 is judged to indicate a meaningful negative comparative difference. Conversely, an index of 105 or greater is judged to indicate a meaningful positive comparative difference.  All index data are rounded to the nearest whole number. If a specific ADCI dimension is not presented it is because the index was between 96 and 104 suggesting no meaningful difference versus Nation.

Dimensions With A Meaningful Positive Difference

Age 18-24: Diversity (109), Trust in Government (119), Safety in Travel (117), Trust in Business (114), Education Quality (105), Civic Participation (110), Personal/Social Identity (105)
Age 25-34: Trust in Government (115), Trust in Business (113)
Age 35-44: Trust in Business (105)
Age 45-54:
Age 55-64: Environment (106)
Age 65+: Freedom of Expression (105), Generational Progress (114), Leisure Activities (105), Material Prosperity (115), Optimism (108), Social Status (109), Environment (110), Freedom of Choice (111), Support of Friends (105), Fruits of Labor (107), Happiness (110), Trust in People (106), Job Benefits (111), Health Care (117), Home Ownership (108), Satisfaction with Residence (112), Destinations in Life (112), Safe Community (105), Political Freedom (106), Access to Education (112), Financial Security (120)

Dimensions With A Meaningful Negative Difference

Age 18-24: Freedom of Expression (93), Generational Progress (92), Material Prosperity (90), Environment (88), Freedom of Choice (95), Job Benefits (94), Health Care (93), Home Ownership (84), Satisfaction with Residence (89), Destinations in Life (92), Safe Community (93), Political Freedom (91), Access to Education (95), Financial Security (93)
Age 25-34: Freedom of Expression (92), Material Prosperity (95), Environment (85), Freedom of Choice (94), Support of Friends (95), Health Care (91), Satisfaction with Residence (90), Destinations in Life (91), Safe Community (94), Political Freedom (91), Access to Education (95)
Age 35-44: Generational Progress (95), Material Prosperity (95), Environment (94), Freedom of Choice (95), Happiness (95), Health Care (94), Satisfaction with Residence (93), Destinations in Life (95), Financial Security (93)
Age 45-54: Generational Progress (92), Material Prosperity (92), Optimism, Trust in Government (92), Social Status (95), Freedom of Choice (95), Happiness (95), Civic Participation (95), Trust in People (95), Job Benefits (93), Health Care (92), Access to Education (92), Financial Security (86)
Age 55-64: Trust in Business (93)
Age 65+: Trust in Business (95)


The composite index versus Nation for each age group is as follows: Age 18-24 (index 98), Age 25-34 (97), Age 35-44 (98), Age 45-54 (97), Age 55-64 (101), and Age 65+ (106).

These age groupings are not exactly aligned with the Pew Research generational descriptions. But, in this discussion I will be using the PEW Research terminology. For perspective, PEW Research would describe respondents to the Xavier University study age 14-33 as part of the Millennial generation. Gen X would be used to describe respondents age 34-49. Baby Boomers are those aged 50-68, and the Silent Generation is age 69+. Unfortunately, I do not have the data aligned exactly to the PEW Research generational breaks so I am going to purposefully take some literary license.

Clearly, it is good to be a member of the Silent Generation in the USA. Residents age 65+ feel they are achieving more of their total American Dream than any other age group. In fact, only the age 65+ cohort indexes at or above the 105 cut-off criterion for positive meaningfulness on total American Dream achievement (ADCI score).

I am struck by the differences in the Trust in Government dimension (defined as satisfaction with government’s fairness and trustworthiness) results between the Millennial and the Silent Generation. I am not exactly certain what the implications are, but the results are polar opposite. PEW Research does suggest that generational differences can be a byproduct of unique historical circumstances including period events. It would be really interesting to try and better understand how the difference in Trust in Government manifests in the area of public policy/program decisions. On the surface it appears choices made to make it easier for one generation to achieve their American Dream on this dimension may make it harder to achieve for the other.

Health Care (defined as the ability to access and afford good health care) is another dimension with interesting generational differences in perceived achievement. Both the Millennial and Gen X generations are meaningfully below National average in their reported attainment of their health care expectations. The Silent Generation is meaningfully above national average. There are published studies that suggest a generational difference in the perception of what health is and the expectation from caregivers. PEW Research has looked at the question of Millennial generation perception of health care in the US. They found most of this age group disapproved of the Affordable Care Act, but believe providing health care coverage to be a government responsibility. Understanding the differences between generation perception on this dimension is important as Millennials will likely force large-scale change on the US healthcare industry.

Trust in Business (defined as satisfaction with businesses’ fairness and trustworthiness) is another dimension with polar opposite generational scores. It almost looks like trust starts high and then declines as people get closer to retirement. Given the need for Business to maintain access to a skilled labor pool, this is an area that will definitely require some attention. I also think it may be an hurdle for economic development if not adequately addressed.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I will be the first to admit that I do not have all the answers, not even close. The ADCI data help us understand what residents are thinking, but not why. Consequently, I would love to crowd source the interpretation of the results from this look at the data.

  • Are there any differences you believe to be noteworthy?
  • Why do you believe these differences exist? The more hypotheses we can get the better we will all understand the challenges.
  • What are some tactics you feel economic development and community leaders should consider implementing to address these data?
  • Does your community have a program you believe is working well to address the bigger performance differences?

Please feel free to respond and share your interpretation.

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6 Comments so far

  1. Brian McKenzie

    February 17, 2015

    Your indicator of things to come : No reported positive attributes from the 45-54 age group. Gen-X is mostly done buying the lie of the American Dream; and if they have kids – maybe they are teaching them that it was all a lie from the beginning.
    Enjoy the circling of the drain.
    Happier Abroad
    Gen – X Ex-Pat.

  2. Edward

    February 17, 2015

    Brian – Just to clarify, a lack of dimensions with an index => 105 versus national average means the group did not feel like they are achieving more of their American Dream than national average on any specific dimension. These data do not argue that the group has rejected the American Dream. You might like the following publication. It suggests Gen-Xers have not rejected the American Dream, but do apply different ratings to the various dimensions than older generations (

  3. Mark

    February 17, 2015

    Safety in Travel (17) for 18-24 is a positive difference? Wouldn’t a score of 17 mean they are terrified of travel? Should that be 117?

  4. Edward

    February 17, 2015

    Mark – You are absolutely right, it should have been 117. I have corrected it. Thanks so much for reading the piece and letting me know.

  5. Brent Walkler

    February 18, 2015

    Ed, it would also be interesting to see the absolute percentages or average “score” per statement/dimension versus the indices… perhaps the scores are really high and indices around 90-95 are still “positive”… but if the scores are really low nationally, even a 110 index would be trouble. Too much to print here, but an interesting consideration.

  6. Edward

    April 4, 2015

    Brian – Just to clarify, the way you would interpret the data is that for the 45-54 age cohort there are no dimensions scored meaningfully higher than the average. It indicates this age cohort is aligned with the national sentiment regarding achievement of the American Dream. I do not believe it supports your feeling that the American Dream is circling the drain. In fact, the data over time would actually support its resiliency.

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