Jun 28, 2011

From the Archives

Americans Are Creating the New American Dream

With the economy still struggling, national security still an issue, continual advances in technology, and a myriad of moral and legal challenges rewriting people’s sense of propriety, Americans have pushed the reset button regarding their lifestyle and future expectations. The traditional American Dream – which included a house in the suburbs, two cars, two children, a stay-at-home mom and a gainfully employed father – is being revised. The nature of that redefinition is explained in Futurecast, the latest book by researcher George Barna, who explores the future of American society in eight dimensions of our lives.

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According to Barna, the reshaping of the Dream is a reaction to mistakes of the recent past. Those missteps include:

• Living beyond the family’s economic means, in the expectation that the future will provide greater financial capacity. Expectations have been significantly downgraded in the wake of the economic slump that is going on four years in duration.

• Piling on unsustainable levels of household debt, in the belief that future financial gains from housing and employment will cover the burden. In the aftermath of record-setting levels of unemployment and under-employment, decimated housing values, tighter loan policies, and historic highs in foreclosures, adults are re-thinking their spending habits.

• The absence of savings, trusting that the future will provide increased income and decreased prices. After a period of negative savings, Americans have re-learned the art of saving. While reserves remain relatively low, putting a few dollars away for the future is increasingly becoming part of the household financial routine.

• Purchasing the best available goods and services. The nationwide financial dive has driven millions of Americans to alter their sense of “needs” – to the point of accepting products and services that are not the most expensive, most prestigious, most exotic, or most exclusive. There are indications that growing numbers of people have learned to distinguish needs from wants.

“One of the keys to understanding where we are headed,” explained George Barna, “is how willing people are to engage in acts of self-discipline. We see such restraint being forced on people economically. We are not seeing evidence of such discipline in areas such as moral values or spiritual commitment.”

Futurecast provides information about trends related to American lifestyles, family life, attitudes and values, media use, technology integration, entertainment preferences, religious beliefs and behavior, institutional faith, and demographics. Published by Tyndale Publishing, as part of the BarnaBooks line regarding faith and culture, the book represents the third such trends-oriented written book by Barna, released a decade apart. (Prior trends titles included the award-winning The Frog in the Kettle in 1990 and Boiling Point, with co-author Mark Hatch, in 2000.)

Early reviews have also pointed out the multitude of fascinating facts delivered in Futurecast. Among some of the insights pointed out by readers are:

• America’s emphasis upon legal action has produced a “litigation tax” – the amount of money a typical citizen pays each year due to the cost of court awards that get passed on to consumers – of $835 per person. America currently has more lawyers than it has doctors.

• Despite the ubiquitous presence of sexuality in American media, and the widespread focus on sex in daily conversation and behavior, roughly one-third of all marriages are “sexless” marriages – those in which the married couple has sex less than 10 times per year.

• Barna describes more than a dozen seminal shifts in core attitudes and values. One of the more intriguing transitions is away from the quest for excellence toward satisfaction with adequacy in personal productivity.

• Although the “big four” music companies have struggled to remain profitable in the age of digital singles and music piracy, several indicators show that music is more popular than ever. It serves various purposes for the public: a distraction, engaging entertainment, instructional philosophy, representative communication, the foundation of generational language, the source of role models, and a means of connecting people.

• The faster growing faith group in America is the Skeptics. Comprised of the combination of atheists and agnostics, the segment has doubled in size in the last 25 years.

• Various measures indicate that Americans remain deeply interested in connecting with God, but fewer and fewer retain enthusiasm about doing so in a conventional church setting or through long-standing religious institutions. Millions of Americans are currently marking time until new, more appealing avenues of faith expression and experience are developed and accessible.

George Barna encourages leaders to remain aware of the trends so that they and the people they lead do not become victims of those patterns. “Leaders define reality for people. You cannot effectively define your slice of the world if you’re always a step behind, trying to undo what has already been done. True leaders are compelled by a vision of a superior tomorrow to create that world. You have to grasp the current state of things and the direction things are moving in order to effectively direct the flow of energy and resources. Leadership never happens in an information vacuum; it always builds on trend awareness and cultural potential.”

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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