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Brookings Mountain West


The Declaration of Independence promises the opportunity to seek life fulfillment and happiness – in its fullest sense- for all U.S. citizens. Is happiness for all an increasingly elusive dream? There is increasing debate – both academic and political – about the extent to which the American Dream is equally available to all citizens today. U.S. trends in opportunity and in distributional outcomes are becoming more unequal by any number of measures. Is happiness as unequally shared as income in the U.S.? While U.S. attitudes about inequality and opportunity have historically been exceptional, are they still?

Our well-being metrics depict “two” Americas: a wealthy group with high levels of life satisfaction and corresponding ability to plan for and invest in the future, and a poor group with lower life satisfaction, higher levels of stress, and much less optimism about the future. The gap between the poor and the rich is greatest in terms of mobility attitudes, e.g. beliefs that hard work can get people ahead. Current patterns in well-being and attitudes about the future thus suggest that the gaps between the lives of the rich and poor will only grow larger. A potentially more positive result from our research is that belief in hard work mediates the unhappiness of the least happy Americans. Thus continuing to believe in the American Dream provides some solace for those respondents who do.


American Dream; Declaration of Independence (United States); Equality; Happiness; Income Poor; Rich people; Social classes


Inequality and Stratification | Political Science | Sociology

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