men shaking hands and the american flag

The Evolution of the American Dream

We all have dreams and want to amount to something one day, whether it is becoming financially independent or secure, starting a family, or landing a good job. These goals are all connected to one of America’s most well-known catchphrases: living the American Dream.

The phrase’s popularity started in 1931 when James Truslow Adams published his work, the Epic of America, where he defined the American Dream as having a richer life and facing opportunities according to one’s ability and achievement. The phrase can be interpreted as an ethos or a set of beliefs that guides citizens on ideals, such as freedom, democracy, and equal rights. It ultimately means that anyone can achieve the American Dream regardless of where they were born or their socioeconomic status.

Today, the American Dream may mean owning the latest smartphone, being the CEO of a huge business, or building your dream home in the snowy mountains with the services of a general contractor in Utah. Here are different interpretations of the phrase throughout the years.

1930s to 1940s

During this time, the phrase accurately reflects the definition of Adams, who clarified that the dream was not of motor cars and high wages but of a social order where men and women can attain their fullest stature from their innate capabilities and are recognized by others for what they are, regardless of circumstances.

The 1940s began mass advertising this phrase, appearing in advertisements and intellectual properties like articles and book publications. The materialistic view of the American Dream only started in 1944, with the introduction of G.I. Bill, helping veterans acquire homes and even a college education. With these benefits, the media started to spread the idea of suburban living and consumerism culture.

1950s to 1960s

After the second World War, the American Dream still focused on the idea of equality and freedom and less on material wealth or items. This was supported by the famous speech of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, wherein he shared his vision that was heavily rooted in the American Dream.

luxurious looking home

1970s to 1980s

As time went on, the American Dream was starting to take the form of highlighting what it means to be a true citizen of the United States. This was done with the idea that building or buying your own house is the ultimate dream, with builders extensively advertising the phrase in relation to home residency.

1990s to 2000s

Emerging technologies such as personal computers and cellphones had an impact on the American Dream. This was represented by rooms having their own TV sets and people having phones and computers. The late 2000s and the economy crash late in the decade saw the shift of the dream from financial security and gaining more objects.

2010s to Present

As technology progressed, people started to believe the American Dream was harder to achieve, thanks to student loan debts and demanding work culture. The phrase then shifted to opportunity, inclusion, and innovation by solving complex issues with technology.

People nowadays may consider the phrase to be a thing of the past, with a Harvard survey showing that 48% of millennials believe it to be dead. Many also believe that overcoming problems from circumstances and birth is much easier said than done.

The American Dream has shifted its focus on many things based on the time period, but its main focus remains the same: pursuing a life of individual happiness. In the end, it is up to us as to how we want to live our dream.