The New American Dream: The Next Generation Plans to Make Meaningful Change in their Lifetime | Net Impact

The New American Dream: The Next Generation Plans to Make Meaningful Change in their Lifetime

The New American Dream: The Next Generation Plans to Make Meaningful Change in their Lifetime | Net Impact

During the summer of 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic and protests around racial justice, the Walton Family Foundation embarked upon a study of what young Americans think about their own futures: their prospects for success, what they want out of life, and what they fear will stand in their way. At the conclusion of that work, a question remained: why, in the face of so many obstacles, do young Americans still feel so optimistic about the future?

New research suggests that young Americans believe the world will change for the better and that they will be the ones to drive that change.

The Research

To better understand the positive mindset of young Americans, Echelon Insights, commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation, conducted a survey with a diverse and representative sample of 1,000 members of Generation Z (Gen Zers) (ages 13–23) and 1,000 Millennials (ages 24–39) across the United States. The survey, conducted on January 12-22, 2021, included follow-up questions from the study conducted in the Summer of 2020. New topics included:

  • Who and what can create lasting change?
  • What are young Americans' views on the current education system and climate change?
  • Which communities do Millennials and Gen Zers hope to create?

The final report overwhelmingly showed that Millennials and Gen Zers plan to make meaningful change in their lifetime. While 7 in 10 young Americans believe that their generation faces obstacles, that only fuels their desire to take action.

The New American Dream

Young Americans have faced examples of harrowing worldwide challenges, including terror attacks, war, racial injustice, and a global health pandemic. Still, two-thirds of Gen Zers and Millennials believe the American Dream is achievable. The mindset of Millennials and Gen Zers, their values, and their choices are reshaping the American dream for the better so that it's a positive and constructive response to our society and our planet's needs.

In a recent press release, Caryl M. Stern, executive director of the Walton Family Foundation, explains, “The optimism and determination of Millennials and Generation Z is infectious. These emerging leaders are telling us they want to use their talents to make meaningful change in the world.”

The survey identified a variety of ways emerging leaders believe they can and will enact change, including voting, starting and/or working for organizations focused on societal challenges and volunteering. When asked which generations they believe will bring positive change in their lifetimes, 59% of participants said their own generation, and 49% believe even younger generations will make an impact. As one Gen Zer expressed, “We’re tired of how previous generations have failed us, and we’re already standing up and making a difference.”

The next generation is telling us that change will not be achieved through business as usual. Indeed, young Americans are shaping how business and political leaders respond to social injustice, climate change, economic and racial inequity, and many other issues that our planet is facing. One example is the transparency and accountability Gen Zers and Millennials expect from corporations. Younger generations will actively research whether a company actually follows through on its commitment to sustainability and social justice before making a decision. Younger generations are reimagining capitalism. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they want to start their own business one day.

While the original “American Dream” focused heavily on prosperity and success, young Americans are reshaping this concept - for the better of people and planet. Millennials and Gen Zers have a lot - and give us a lot - of hope for the future.

Our Community at the Forefront

While the world faces big challenges, Gen Zers and Millennials believe their generation will adapt to overcome and eliminate those obstacles. At Net Impact, we believe in the immense power of young leaders, and we are excited to support their mission to create a more just and sustainable world. Through our programs and chapter communities, we have seen a wave of emerging leaders who want to make a difference, believe in themselves, and use their skills and resources to enact change.

In collaboration with the Walton Family Foundation, Net Impact held a thought-provoking conversation on February 24th, 2021 with panelists Kristen Soltis Anderson, pollster and co-founder of Echelon Insights, Emma Pengelly, the Deputy Director for the Home Region Program at Walton Family Foundation, Nayancie Matthews, a business and finance major at Baruch College, and Elizabeth John, an MBA student at NYU Stern. The topics?

  • What is the new dream, and how does it look different across diverse racial or ethnic perspectives and experiences?
  • What are the barriers, and what is the role of the public and private sectors in helping to remove barriers?
  • How will this new dream change America’s landscape and influence our global community, and how we respond to global challenges?

Watch the full event to explore more on how next gen leaders are reshaping the American Dream.

Young Americans have realistic expectations about the state of the world yet remain optimistic about the future and their pivotal role in getting society where it needs to be - more just, more sustainable, and more secure. Gen Zers and Millennials have adopted a new American Dream, and their determination and innovation to achieve this dream is an inspiring lesson to us all.