The American Dream

Romantic couple standing in front of the house they just bought.
A rolled up Declaration of Independence placed on an American flag.
Three generations of a happy family.
Young students studying in a library.
Religiously motivated oppression caused many people to leave Europe a few hundred years ago.
The United States was a popular destination for Europeans seeking a better life.

The Euro-centrist view, maintained well into the 1800s, was that North America was an empty continent ready to be exploited. Here, it was believed, everybody could own their own land, grow rich and be free from oppression and taxes. This was contrary to life in Europe, where the working class toiled on other people’s land, most people were poor, and the state or the church dictated how people should live their lives.

Because life seemed much better in North America, making a new start across the Atlantic became a life goal for many poor and persecuted Europeans. As a result, people from all over Europe, not just Brits, migrated westward, intent on becoming prosperous and thereby achieve the American Dream. The United States, around the same time, wanting to populate their large country, welcomed the European migrants, and not seldom had agricultural land or industrial jobs available to them. However, for fear of an oversupply of low-skilled workers and a disintegrating society, the U.S. government began restricting entry to European immigrants in the early 1900s.

Anybody can have success

Today, about a century after the United States partly closed its borders to Europeans, the American Dream remains a relevant concept, although with a slightly shifted meaning. Nowadays, the American Dream is considered to imply that all Americans, regardless of race or social class, have the possibility to achieve success through hard work. The success, as people often define it, consists of having a happy family and being able to pay the bills for a decent house and a car, while the hard work to enable the success usually means education and later a salaried employment.

The aforementioned standard view of what constitutes American Dream-style success, which stereotypically boils down to having 2.5 kids and a house with a white picket fence, invokes pleasant images in people in the United States and is sufficiently ambitious for many or most Americans. However, undoubtedly, success and hard work can be defined in various ways, and the national mentality that anyone can reach his or her dream allows Americans to dream big. As a consequence, American society, perhaps more than any other society today, fosters people who take great risks and endure great hardship to become successful entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes or whatever else they aspire to be.

A worldwide reputation

Becoming what you aspire to be, whether you have unusually lofty goals or go for the standard ideal, is typically not easy, and all Americans, consequently, are not able to fulfill their dreams. Nevertheless, thanks to the idea of the American Dream, the United States is universally known as the land of opportunity. This reputation, quite naturally, leads the U.S. to now, just like in the past, attract immigrants from other parts of the world who want to improve their lives. However, given that the borders are not wide open anymore, it is not certain that the many hopefuls will be allowed to make America their home, and with Europe now having grown rich, 21st century migrants tend to come from non-European countries.