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The American Dream: Happiness, Say Teens

Being Happy Trumps House, Cars, and Career
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WebMD Health News

Jan. 13, 2005 -- The American dream is all about happiness, not careers or material goods, and it's within reach. That bright-eyed view comes from teenagers on the cusp of independence and their own pursuit of happiness as adults.

Nearly 640 teens aged 13-18 discussed the American dream with Harris Interactive pollsters last month. The survey was conducted for the Job Shadow Coalition, which encourages young people to "shadow" workplace mentors to explore career possibilities.

The poll presented seven definitions of the American dream. Participants picked the one that sounded right to them. Here are the results:

  • "Simply being happy, no matter what I do" (47%)
  • "Having a house, cars, and a good job" (38%)
  • "Being able to provide for my family" (30%)
  • "Having the career of my dreams" (27%)
  • "Being rich and/or famous" (20%)
  • "Owning my own business" (7%)
  • "Being 'the Boss'" (5%)

Six percent chose "other" and 5% said they weren't sure.

Most participants (71%) said they believe the American dream is achievable today. More boys than girls were sure of that (75% vs. 68%).

What does it take to turn the American dream into reality? The teens had opinions on that, too.

Education topped their list. A four-year or bachelor's degree is a must, said 31%. Twenty percent said a graduate degree, such as an MBA or master's degree, was needed, while 7% said a PhD was required.

Twelve percent thought some college or trade school was fine, while 4% thought a high school diploma or GED would do. Education level didn't matter to 16%, and 11% weren't sure how much schooling was required.

When it came to money, the teens were split.

Many said income made no difference (28%). But 24% said it takes an income of at least $100,000 to fund the American dream. Eighteen percent said the dream required earning at least $50,000 per year. Eleven percent weren't sure.

Fewer teens thought the dream needed a salary of more than $250,000 or a million dollars a year (8% and 9%, respectively). Hardly anyone (3%) said the American dream was doable at the lowest income level (at least $25,000 per year).

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