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Age, Well-Being & Dreaming the American Dream

Who’s living the American Dream? A recent survey offers some interesting clues. 

The American Dream is alive in America. It just may depend on who you ask, when and how they feel. So reports American Family Insurance who is conducting an online survey that is tallying a convenience sample of respondents. While the ability to generalize these data to the national population with accuracy may be difficult at best, the responses show an interesting trend. The online survey asks (among other questions) ‘Do You Believe in the American Dream’? Of the respondents, 90% report that they believe in the American Dream to some extent…only 45% are able to say they are pursuing their version of the dream and only 14% can say they are living the dream.

Age provides another lens to view the results. While this is only a convenience sample, the trend is clear. Looking at the five age cohorts across the nation’s five regions, Northeast, Southeast, South, Midwest and West, the oldest cohort (55 years old and older) appears to have the greatest proportion of ‘believers’. Except in the South where the 35 to 54 year olds outpace their more senior respondents.

Is this a result of income? The Northeast typically has higher incomes, but those Northeasterners responding to the survey give the lowest percentage of positive responses.

Perhaps it is cohort effect? Baby boomers and older Americans grew up with the American Dream as their guiding star about what to aspire to with some variations along the way and how to get there. Given economic uncertainty younger groups may be too busy surviving to contemplate a larger dream — or to take the time to answer an online survey.

I suspect something else is going on. While cohort experience and expectation may play a large part in the response patterns, another survey that is well-grounded, reliable and can be generalized with incredible accuracy is the Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index or GHWBI. The Index is based upon more than 1 million surveys in the United States since 2008 and continues to amass data based upon 1000 surveys conducted each day. The GHWBI consistently reports that older adults (65 and older) report higher well-being. Despite the obvious aches and pains of older age, the Gallup-Healthways findings reveal that older adults are more positive and report higher well-being in six dimensions. These include physical health, access to basic services, emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment and overall life evaluation (See USA Today article). A casual observation of the convenience data reported by American Family Insurance suggests that maybe we need to add another dimension to positive aging — that of ‘healthy dreamer’.


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