The mythic American Dream, defined by the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster, is an “American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity.” We all know what that social ideal has looked like historically: a 9-5 job, two cars, two kids, and one McMansion complete with a white picket fence. It’s what your parents, grandparents, and probably even great-great-grandparents aspired to (though they probably didn’t use the term McMansion in the’50s — McDonalds was still at novelty back then).
But according a new poll conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, 48% of millennials believe the American idyll is dead. More than 2,000 young Americans between 18 and 29 years old were interviewed about the government, the military, the future of the country, and the collective outlook on the future is…not great!
The caveat in the first paragraph may be important: people in the 1950s didn’t use the term McMansion as it didn’t really become widely used until the late 1990s (and yes, the Mc- prefix also wouldn’t have made much sense). But, did those post-war suburbanites really aspire to a McMansion, often defined as an overly large, poorly built home sitting on a small lot within the sprawling suburbs? Not really. Many of those early suburban single-family homes were quite modest in size. The Levittown homes were around 1,000 square feet and could even be purchased with unfinished second levels. In comparison, today’s new homes are roughly 2.5 times the size of the average new homes of the early 1950s. Many post-war suburban homes were mass produced but they weren’t considered garish or ostentatious. Were these new suburban homes better than many of the other housing options after World War II? Yes and there was indeed a real housing shortage. But, it is a real stretch to claim the American Dream always included a Mediterranean inspired 3,000 square foot home tightly packed into a small lot in a gated neighborhood.