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Millennials Redefining the American Dream, Researchers Find

New Study Reveals That Americans Are Redefining the American Dream - Featured Illustration

It would seem that millennials are replacing their dreams of a steady job and home ownership with something simpler — freedom and happiness. The latest survey from banking company Varo Money shows that young people are letting go of their parents’ ideas of the American Dream and reaching for something else.

Researchers asked 1,100 millennials to define the American Dream. While many still put financial security at the top of the list (42%), happiness (36%) and the freedom to focus on individual wishes and needs (33%) also ranked very high.

The idea of an emotional goal rather than something tangible is very different from what previous generations looked for — 62% of the survey respondents reported that they believed their goals to be different from their parents’ goals, and 42% believe that their parents don’t understand their financial situation. A significant segment (25%) even believes that millennials’ parents are at least partially to blame for their financial troubles.

As the generation that entered adulthood around 2008 and the Great Recession, millennials face unique financial challenges. With the $1.6 trillion American student loan debt carried mostly on millennial backs, this generation changed its focus from traditional ideas to something more expansive — liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The survey also examined the reasons behind the shifting notions about the American Dream. Changing social norms (47%) were at the top of the list, followed by crushing student debt (43%), a tougher job market (43%), and the impact of technology (39%). A smaller number (16%) said even the changing climate was a contributing factor.

Only 5% of millennials said they don’t have any money problems at all, while 54% experience stress and anxiety due to financial pressure. Many millennials report losing sleep over their financial woes as well — 35% lose an hour or more of sleep because of it, and 8% lose four or more hours because of money problems. A whopping 52% claim that stress is damaging their health, and 47% say that stress is making them want to give up on their dreams.

Women are more pessimistic than their male counterparts: 51% of women believe that achieving the American Dream is impossible, versus 43% of men. Women also worry about the future more than men, with 49% fretting over what’s coming, compared to 36% of men. Men are also more likely to receive financial assistance from their parents than women are — 56% compared to 38%. Both genders argue with their parents about money — 37% of millennials resent their parents for not understanding their financial troubles.

Despite all of the financial anxiety and the abandonment of the old American Dream, millennials report that they are looking forward to the future — 46% say they are optimistic about what’s coming despite their current problems.


About author
J. Andjelic

Albert Einstein is said to have identified compound interest as mankind’s greatest invention. That story’s probably apocryphal, but it conveys a deep truth about the power of fiscal policy to change the world along with our daily lives. Civilization became possible only when Sumerians of the Bronze Age invented money. Today, economic issues influence every aspect of daily life. My job at Fortunly is an opportunity to analyze government policies and banking practices, sharing the results of my research in articles that can help you make better, smarter decisions for yourself and your family.

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