Generational Differences In Achieving The American Dream

dwheufds6kq-joshua-earleA dream doesn’t become a reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.

Quote attributed to Colin Powell


An Analysis of American Dream Composite Index Data (calendar 2013 – 2015)

The American Dream Composite Index (ADCI) study is “a unique and robust measure of American sentiment”. The study is conducted monthly by Xavier University. It looks at behaviors, attitudes and satisfaction with dimensions such as economic conditions, personal well-being, societal and political institutions, cultural diversity and the physical environment. The study is conducted monthly and results are reported by Xavier University on their website.

Xavier University provides The Burghard Group with aggregated data to use in helping economic development professionals and elected officials better understand how people living in their communities feel about their ability to achieve the American Dream. For the purpose of this analysis, aggregate data for the three-year period of calendar 2013 to 2015 has been used.

Executive Summary

There are measurable differences between generations in the perceived degree to which aspects of the American Dream are being achieved. But overall, the generations estimate they are realizing only 64.6% of their American Dream. To enable residents to achieve the remaining 35.4%, economic development professionals and elected officials need to understand specific local barriers and then develop specific strategies around infrastructure investment, public policies/programs and asset creation to knock those barriers down.


The ADCI is comprised of 35 dimensions. These dimensions are statistically grouped into 5 indexes and a total composite score:

Economic – Measures one’s satisfaction with respect to their finances, job, home ownership and healthcare

Well-Being – Measures the extent of one’s contentment, health and prosperity in life.

Societal – Measures the extent to which the government, businesses, and people are fair and trustworthy.

Diversity – Measures the attitudes toward the assimilation in one’s community.

Environment – Measures the extent of pollution in the air, food, water and land that one encounters on a regular basis.

Index Versus National Average By Age Cohort

This index is calculated based on data over the three year period of calendar 2013 - 2015.


Index Versus National Average By Generation

Gen X98.5699.3699.6499.8398.4499.22
This index is calculated based on data over the 3-year period of calendar 2013-2015.



It is interesting that overall, the different age cohorts and generations have a similar sentiment with respect to how much of the American dream they are achieving.  Index to the national average ranges from 99% to 101%.  For perspective, the national average degree of achievement is 64,6%.

There are some differences however in the sub-index achievement scores, most notably the Economic and Environment sub-indexes.  Here, perceived degree of achievement appears to differ between the 65+ (or Greatest Generation) and everybody else.  For community leaders, the practical implication is you need to be certain when seeking community input into perceived barriers to achieving the American Dream you need to recognize that seniors in your community may be more satisfied with their economic and environmental conditions. You need to seek to understand the drivers of that sentiment before proposing action.

What are your thoughts on why only 64.6% of the American Dream is being achieved?  What barriers do you see?  And why would seniors feel more satisfied than everybody else in the sub-indexes of economic and environment?  How would you propose your community address the barriers you see? Please leave a comment.

You may also be interested in Racial Differences in Achieving The American Dream


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