The American Dream (part 1): What Is It?

The Solvency Shark would like to kick things off with a look at one of America’s most beloved socioeconomic ideals.

Yep. The American Dream. Many Americans claim to strive for it, and those who do not still acknowledge its allure. From the westward expansion to the Cold War to credit card debt, the American Dream has been behind it all. It’s America’s Economics 101.

But what is it?

In February of 2010, researchers at Xavier University conducted a survey to figure out what the public believed. While 67 percent believed that achieving the Dream was possible, and 60 percent said that achieving it is becoming harder, there was no majority opinion on what it was.

Choosing from two out of eight keywords to define the Dream, 36 percent picked family. 35 percent picked opportunity, and 33 percent picked freedom.

The other keywords were picked by under 30 percent of participants: financial security, happiness, a good job, home ownership, and wealth, in that order.

The demographic breakdown is just as fascinating— “opportunity” and “home ownership” were most often picked by Latinos and recent immigrants. “Freedom” was most often picked by wealthy whites, and white men over fifty. “Financial security” was most often picked by middle-class whites, especially white women. And “wealth” was most often picked by African-Americans.

What do you believe? How you define success will set your financial goals, and influence your financial decisions.

For example, building financial security is a very different process than accumulating wealth— you must think in the long term, and your savings and investments will reflect that. If “family” is your main priority, you might be less willing to go into debt, or have the exact opposite attitude to achieve “home ownership”.

But… how do you define “freedom” or “happiness”? These are intrinsic values, dependent more on your attitude than your financial standing. And “opportunity” is a factor we individuals can’t (usually) control.

So what about the Dream? The research shows how it’s very subjective, and that there’s no one way of attaining it. But some goals make more fiscal sense than others…


Continued: The American Dream (part 2): How Not To Achieve It

Alexander Carl

Alexander Carl

I find it difficult to brag about myself. Too modest? Perhaps.

Anyway: my name is Alexander Carl. I am a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I spent four blissful years earning a degree in Communication Studies. Now I face the real world of economic downturns, student loans, and the absence of “academic” camaraderie.

Yet I refuse to be bummed. My economic philosophy is to live simply, save, and maximize whatever I can. Consumer culture is undeniably pervasive, but you don’t have to sell your soul to co-exist with it— there is great power from using your economic resources wisely.

I started writing when I figured out how to hold a pencil. Since then I’ve written short stories, poetry, screenplays, and have blogged. In fact, three of my screenplays have been produced into short films, two of which I directed. I’m no stranger to the media, having served as a DJ at a freeform radio station and worked as a crew member for live TV.

Pastimes include traveling (I’ll visit virtually anywhere), swimming, jogging, hiking, and hunkering down with a good movie.

Overall I’m a peaceful person, though not in a creepy New Agey way. I get my energy from music, good conversation, and the outdoors (I was an active Boy Scout, earning my Eagle). I consider myself “inquisitive” and “wry”, and for the sake of autobiography I’ll assume that I am.
Alexander Carl

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