Nov 25, 2023 - Economy

Americans think the American dream is dying

Illustration of an American flag with a crack through the middle of it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Americans are increasingly unlikely to believe that those who work hard will get ahead and that their children will be better off than they are, according to two recent polls.

Why it matters: The polls reflect concerns that the American dream is dimming — or already extinguished.

Driving the news: The WSJ asked respondents whether they believe "the American Dream — that if you work hard you'll get ahead — still holds true."

  • Just 36% said it does hold true vs. 18% who said it never held true and 45% who said it once held true, but not anymore.
  • Compare that to surveys in 2012 and 2016, when 53% and 48% respectively said the American dream held true. Those polls were taken by a different pollster, PRRI, with different methodology, but the downward trend is clear.

Zoom in: Women were more pessimistic about the state of the American dream than men, according to the WSJ poll, while younger people were much more pessimistic than people over 65.

Between the lines: America's enormous wealth gap is often cited as a reason for the decline in faith in the American dream.

  • A 2022 Brookings analysis suggests America is now less of a meritocracy than some other wealthy countries. "Wealth inequality is high. And wealth status is sticky," the authors write.
  • Yes, but: Other scholars note that Americans over the generations have tended to be better off than their parents, another metric by which the American dream could be measured.

What to watch: Americans are increasingly worried that trend won't hold going forward.

  • In a recent NBC poll, a record-low 19% of respondents said they were confident their children's generation would be better off than their own.

Go deeper: America's homebuyers are getting older

Go deeper