AAII Survey: Investors Provide Their Definitions of Financial Success, “American Dream”


In a recent survey from Hearth Insights, fewer than one in five Americans feel like they’re living the “American Dream.” However, how do you define that dream? As Anthony Ghosn, Heath’s chief executive officer said, that dream is “a complex concept that involves a variety of factors.”

AAII Weekly Survey Question

Living the American Dream and achieving financial success are subjective topics. So we set out to see how our readers define both.

We started by asking this survey question last week:

How do you define financial success?

Here are the results:

In all, 2,145 readers had participated when we compiled these results.

By a relatively wide margin, most of our readers define financial success as “not having to worry about money.”

The second-largest voting block defines financial success as having enough money to retire when they want and with the lifestyle they want.

The top two vote-getters accounted for 82% of the votes. In third place, with 9% of the votes, financial success was defined as being able to help children/family financially.

Four percent of our readers define financial success as being debt-free; another 2% view not living paycheck to paycheck as financial success; while 1% see paying bills on time as defining financial success.

Weekly Special Question

I began this blog post by stating that a recent survey showed that less than 20% of Americans feel they are living the “American Dream.” Being curious how people define that dream, last week’s special question asked:

How would you define the “American Dream?”

In all, we received 199 definitions of the American Dream.

While achieving financial independence/security, living comfortably and being able to take care of their family received the most votes, they did not receive the majority. I was very surprised to see that only 38% of our readers believe that financial success is the American Dream.

Coming in second were definitions of the American Dream that focused on “opportunity.” Readers defined opportunity as:

  • Opportunity to achieve anything
  • Opportunity to have a good job
  • Opportunity to be educated
  • Opportunity to achieve whatever you set out to achieve
  • Opportunity for your children to have a better life than you did

“Freedom” was the central theme of the third-biggest group of responses. These freedoms include:

  • Freedom to pursue your own interests
  • Freedom to do anything
  • Constitutional freedoms
  • Freedom from government intervention in our lives
  • Independence and security

Only 4% of respondents believe that the American Dream is dead.

Here is a sampling of the responses to the special question:

  • “The American Dream, to me, is the ability to achieve whatever you want by hard work and dedication to fulfill your dream. Only in America can anyone apply themselves and accomplish whatever goal they set for themselves.”
  • “You can rise to the highest position regardless of the circumstances of your birth.”
  • “A home we can afford and a job/career that ensures a future of financial security.”
  • “Children having the capability to be more successful than their parents in their careers.”
  • “Enough money to be comfortable in retirement.”
  • “The ‘American Dream’ signifies the freedom for each person to plot the course of his/her own life and achieve success, however he/she defines it.”
  • “The opportunity to pursue your dreams.”
  • “[The American Dream] doesn’t exist anymore. At least not to the magnitude that it did when I entered the workforce in the 1950s. I am sure some think it is better or maybe even the best ever but just going by my lifelong experiences I have little personal evidence that it continues as it did for me. Both of my children have not participated in the ‘American Dream.’ Does it run in cycles?”

Everybody has an opinion! Why not give us yours? Participate in our weekly member poll, updated every Monday, and see the results online at www.aaii.com/memberquestion.



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