When Americans dream of their ideal life, they have a lot on their mind. In a recent study among a representative national sample of adults, The Barna Group explored what people’s ideal future would look like. That portrait was then compared to data from similar studies conducted by the company over the past 18 years, providing a long-term understanding of how people’s views have changed regarding their personal American Dream.
What Americans Want
There were six specific conditions that at least three-quarters of all adults identified as being very important elements in their ideal life. Those included having good physical health (listed by 85%), living with a high degree of integrity (also 85%), having one marriage partner for life (80%), having a clear purpose for living (77%), having a close relationship with God (75%), and having close, personal friendships (74%).
There were another half-dozen items listed by at least half of the adults interviewed. Those conditions included having a comfortable lifestyle (mentioned by 70%), having a satisfying sex life with their marriage partner (66%), having children (66%), living close to family and relatives(63%), being deeply committed to the Christian faith (59%), and making a difference in the world (56%).
The survey uncovered seven conditions that only a minority of Americans deemed worthy of including in their vision of their desired future life. Those conditions included having a college degree (named by 46%), being personally active in a church (45%), traveling throughout the world for pleasure (28%), working in a high-paying job (28%), owning a large home (18%), owning the latest household technology/electronics (11%) and achieving fame or public recognition (7%).
Changes Since 1991
The Barna Group has conducted a similar survey on life goals since 1991. Comparing the most recent answers of adults to those given in 2000, 1993 and 1991, some factors have changed in their relative importance to people.
Among the conditions that have become more important to people are living with a high degree of integrity (which has risen from 76% in 1991 to 85% in 2008); having a comfortable lifestyle (which jumped from 59% in 1991 to 70% today); having children (an 11-point increase since 2000); being deeply committed to the Christian faith (up six points since 2000); and making a difference in the world (improving from 47% in 2000 to 56% in 2008).
There were also several items that fell in perceived importance. Such conditions included having good physical health (down from 93% in 1991 to just 85% today); having a college degree (dropped from 51% in 2000 to 46% in 2008); and working at a high-paying job (decreased from a high of 43% in 1993 to just 28% in 2008).
Overall, among the 19 possible life conditions that Barna tracked, 11 of them have remained relatively stable over the years.
having good physical health
living with a high degree of integrity
having one marriage partner for life
having a clear purpose for living
having a close relationship with God
having close, personal friendships
having a comfortable lifestyle
having a satisfying sex life with your marriage partner
living close to your family and relatives
being deeply committed to the Christian faith
making a difference in the world
having a college degree
being personally active in a church
traveling throughout the world for pleasure
working in a high-paying job
owning a large home
owning the latest household technology/electronics
achieving fame or public recognition
survey sample size
The Ideal Life
In commenting on these outcomes, George Barna, who has overseen this tracking research since it originated in 1991, pointed out some of the highlights of the new findings.
“Stability rules,” Barna noted. “Out of nineteen factors, only two have seen even a ten-point shift in nearly two decades. That’s rather remarkable consistency. So much in our world is changing, yet people’s dreams for their life hinge on the same, unchanging desires: health, relationships, character, faith and comfort. As our life context changes, so do the ways in which people pursue and realize these dreams, but their desires remain anchored to some fundamental values that seem to weather the changing times.”
Barna also indicated that the mainstream media has portrayed American society as changing more radically than it has. “There have been some hugely significant changes in the laws of the land over the past quarter-century. However, when you examine what people want, in essence they are seeking what used to be described as traditional family values: a single marriage for life, a solid family experience, displaying good character, living a life that has meaning and impact, and having an active faith.
“Sometimes the abundant opportunities and challenges of daily life distract or divert people from their commitment to these outcomes,” the researcher continued, “but in their hearts they have retained some pretty basic and traditional hope and dreams. Leaders might take note of this and compare their own vision and plans for the future with the ideal life that Americans hope to experience.”
About the Research
This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of 1003 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, in May 2008. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables. The national survey conducted in 2000 included 1002 interviews; the 1993 survey had 1202 interviews; and the 1991 research is based on 1003 interviews.
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, bi-monthly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website www.barna.org.
© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.
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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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