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Economy

Investors See Nonmaterial Goals as Key to American Dream

Economy

Investors See Nonmaterial Goals as Key to American Dream

Investors See Nonmaterial Goals as Key to American Dream

Story Highlights

  • Seventy-four percent say equality of opportunity is an essential part
  • Majorities say five of 10 possible aspects of American dream are essential
  • Least essential: having a better lifestyle than parents

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Almost three-fourths of U.S. investors (74%) say equality of opportunity is an "essential" part of the American dream -- the highest percentage among 10 tested aspects of the dream. Overall, investors consider nonmaterial goals such as having a good education (63%) or achieving one's full potential (58%) as more essential to the American dream than material goals such as having a better standard of living than one's parents (26%) or achieving financial success (46%).

Defining What Is Essential to the American Dream
"How important is each of the following to your idea of the American dream? Is it essential, important but not essential, or not important?"
Essential Important, but not essential Not important
% % %
Having equality of opportunity 74 23 3
Having a good education 63 33 4
Achieving your full potential 58 40 2
Making a positive difference in the world 57 37 6
Owning your own home 55 38 7
Having a job you love 47 48 5
Achieving financial success 46 49 5
Raising children 42 37 21
Getting married 30 44 26
Having a better standard of living than your parents 26 56 18
WELLS FARGO/GALLUP, AUG. 13-20, 2018

The third-quarter Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, conducted Aug. 13-20, measured the importance investors place on 10 aspects of the American dream, drawn from a broad spectrum of perspectives. Gallup and Wells Fargo define U.S. investors as adults with $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either within or outside of a retirement savings account.

All 10 goals measured are deemed by most investors as either essential or important to their idea of the American dream, but majorities value just five at the highest level -- as essential. The 10 possible dream components fall into four types of goals:

  • Nonmaterial personal goals: Three nonmaterial goals tested in the survey are among the most likely to be considered essential: "having a good education," "achieving your full potential" and "making a positive difference in the world." The other nonmaterial goal -- "having a job you love" -- is essential to slightly less than a majority (47%).

  • Material goals: Among three material personal goals measured -- "owning your own home," "achieving financial success" and "having a better standard of living than your parents" -- only homeownership is deemed essential by a majority (55%).

  • Lifestyle arrangements: The two lifestyle choices included on the list -- getting married and raising children -- do not receive majority "essential" mentions, and they are the two components most often listed as "not important" -- 26% for getting married and 21% for raising children.

  • Societal value: The component most often mentioned as essential is the only one that is an aspiration for American society rather than the individual -- "having equality of opportunity." That goal, which echoes the Declaration of Independence's "all men are created equal" and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, has resonated with Americans across decades of polls testing it as both a national and a personal moral code.

Young Investors More Likely to List American Dream Possibilities as Essential

Investors under the age of 50 are more likely than those 65 and older, by a margin of at least 10 percentage points, to list four personal goals as essential to their concept of the American dream. Two of these are nonmaterial (achieving your full potential and making a positive difference in the world) and two are material (achieving financial success and owning your own home).

Younger Investors Lead the Way in Labeling Dream Goals Essential
Percentage of U.S. investors, by age, who consider each of the following "essential" to their idea of the American dream
18-49 50-64 65+ Difference between 18-49 and 65+
% % % pct. pts.
Achieving financial success 50 44 38 +12
Achieving your full potential 62 56 51 +11
Making a positive difference in the world 61 54 51 +10
Owning your own home 56 60 46 +10
Having a better standard of living than your parents 28 25 22 +6
Having equality of opportunity 75 72 74 +1
Raising children 42 42 41 +1
Getting married 29 33 28 +1
Having a good education 64 57 67 -3
Having a job you love 45 48 50 -5
WELLS FARGO/GALLUP, AUG. 13-20, 2018

Investors aged 50-64 are slightly more likely than the other two age groups to list owning a home (60%) and getting married (33%) as essential.

Over Half of Investors Have Achieved American Dream Themselves

More than half (55%) of investors believe they have achieved what they consider to be the American dream. Over a third (36%) expect to achieve it someday, and 10% don't expect to achieve it.

For investors 65 and older, more than six out of seven (87%) believe they have achieved their version of the American dream -- significantly more than for investors 50-64 (59%) or younger than 50 (39%). But the vast majority in each of these last two age groups say they have achieved it or expect to do so someday -- 91% of those 50-64 and 89% of those younger than 50.

Bottom Line

When James Truslow Adams first coined the phrase "The American dream" in his 1931 book "The Epic of America," he downplayed the material aspects, instead describing it as "a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

Almost 90 years later, American investors seem to agree with those priorities for what constitutes the American dream, tending to find nonmaterial goals more essential than material ones to their personal vision of achieving the dream.

Learn more about how the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index works.

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Gallup https://news.gallup.com/poll/244763/investors-nonmaterial-goals-key-american-dream.aspx
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