Generation Y and the American Dream

generation yCompared to older generations, Gen Yers (those born between 1980 and 2000) see the American Dream as less about money and more about living a fulfilling, meaningful life. They feel that exceeding their parents’ standard of living is no longer necessary and perhaps not even possible. 

When asked in the 2011 MetLife Study of the American Dream what was more important to them, 33% of Gen Yers said “close family and friends” compared to only 23% that said “having a roof over your head”.

But they also realize that financial safety nets of the past such as government programs and employer pensions are disappearing and they must build financial security of their own. 73% of GenYers believe that achieving the American Dream depends on having a financial safety net, yet only 38% believe they have an adequate safety net. 

While 66% of Gen Yers believe they cannot rely on government for their financial security, only 34% are confident they can rely on themselves to provide for their families. This has to cause severe stress and uncertainty plus dependence on parents for financial support.

 When asked what they were doing to increase their income and financial security, 24% of Gen Yers said “freelancing” and 21% said “working a second job”. Only 14% said “starting their own business”. They also feel they are working harder than their parents.

When asked which issues were standing in the way of achieving an adequate financial safety net, these were their top 8 responses.

  • Living paycheck to paycheck. 42% of Americans could not cover their financial obligations for more than a month if they lost their job.
  • Not making enough money at my job.
  • Not knowing where to start.
  • Not having a job.
  • Having credit card debt.
  • Not having an adequate retirement savings plan.
  • Paying off my mortgage.
  • Paying for health insurance.


Finally, only 21% of Gen Yers feel that they have the necessary financial skills to achieve the American Dream. Which makes our jobs as educators quite clear. It is essential that we teach our students:


  • The importance of choosing careers paths that are in demand.
  • How to manage income for successful day-to-day living.
  • How to manage income to reach long-term goals.
  • The difficulty of living on a single income compared to a two-income family.
  • The financial hardships that are created by divorce.

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Charles Wilkinson, Publisher