Millennials Redefine the American Dream

Millennials haven’t given up on the American Dream: their expectation of it has evolved.

A Bank of the West study finds millennials (18-36) still view the American Dream as owning a home, paying off debt and someday retiring from a fulfilling career. However, they’ve amended the dream to include travel, pursuing their passions and living abroad. It’s an American Dream that doesn’t all take place in the U.S., and it requires significant capital to back up.

“Millennials dream of living abroad, moving to a new city and switching careers, but in reality they are quite satisfied with stability,” says Paul Appleton, executive vice president of consumer payments and product at Bank of the West. “It’s an interesting dichotomy that doesn’t appear with Gen-Xers or boomers. This generation is dreaming bigger and better, and while they are confident they’ll fulfill their dreams, they need help figuring out how to fund them.”

With more than 6 in 10 millennials believing the American Dream is still alive today, they’re largely in agreement with older generations about what it looks like. Being happy (70%), owning a home (60%), being debt-free (55%) and retiring comfortably (51%) are all key elements of it, but that isn’t the complete picture. The overwhelming majority of millennials (85%) say it’s important to have the flexibility to move when they want, with 67% saying would like to live abroad at some point in their lives and a third of this group can seeing themselves living in another country for the long term.

The American Dream is still a largely aspirational concept. Millennials only envision themselves packing up and moving to a new city, state or country fewer than two more times in their lives. Most (68%) even say they would prefer to build a life in one community, rather than live and work in multiple places. At this stage, 43% of millennials have bought their homes, while 75% of non-homeowners say they could be motivated to buy a house.

As a result, millennials helped make first-time home buyers 32% of all home buyers in March. That’s the highest percentage of first-time home buyers during that month in three years and follows a 2016 housing market in which 35% of home buyers were first-timers – up from 30% for all of 2015.

Eighty-five percent of millenials say they are confident that they will attain their American Dream. Roughly 67% think they have more opportunity to be successful than their parents had. They see opportunity (80%), not innate ability (20%), as the key to reaching their goals, though only 49% have a financial plan in place.

“Millennials have high expectations for their personal and professional lives, and are driven and able to accomplish the goals that they’ve set out for themselves,” Appleton added. “They want the choice and flexibility to make their own decisions – whether it is to build a new life in a foreign country, navigate a career change to pursue their passions, or buy a home and raise a family. By putting a financial plan in place, millennials can ensure they have the means to build the life they want to lead.”