How Has the American Dream Changed Through Time?

The American Dream began in the 1930s with ambitious plans for maximizing opportunity, working hard to earn a living, finding financial success, owning a home and retiring comfortably around the age of 65. The concept of the American Dream began in 1931, introduced by writer James Truslow Adams as the pursuit of corporate success and unlimited job opportunities. Americans adopted the idealistic view of financial success and security in response to the economic downturn as part of the Great Depression during the late 1920s, but the American Dream changed over time with the changing attitudes of successive generations.

Multiple factors contributed to change in the American Dream. Children born to parents of the Great Depression era never witnessed the economic hardships and widespread unemployment of that decade. Children, therefore, lacked the same motivation and desperation to land jobs and work long, hard hours to make a living. Saddled with debt, insufficient wages and fluctuating employment opportunities, successive generations scaled back interpretations of the American Dream, striving for the basics, such as decent housing and a moderate income instead of affluence and a luxurious lifestyle. Quality of life factors largely played into the revised vision of the American Dream. Younger generations prefer to trade a higher income with a better quality of life, achieved by retiring at the legal age and working jobs suited to their lifestyles.