The American Dream in numbers

Wednesday, July 4, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Can you translate the American Dream into numbers?

That's what Xavier University economics professor Amit Sen is trying to do with his American Dream Composite Index. The index covers 35 factors that play into the researchers' definition of the American Dream — things such as home ownership, trust in people and the extent to which people are exposed to different cultures. You can find the full list of factors here. They're all grouped under five umbrella indices: economic, well-being, societal, diversity and environmental.

It's based on a survey the researchers put together that quantifies to what extent the country is achieving the American Dream in terms of those categories. The list of factors came from "surveys, focus groups, blog and general internet postings, and previously published literature," according to the group's website.

As we talked to people around the state about their definitions of the American Dream and how their own goals stacked up against it, what struck me was how different some people's definitions of happiness and success were. Can we quantify something as personal as what the American Dream means to people if definitions of the Dream vary so much — even within one state or region?

I'm intrigued by the scientific approach to something that's seemed so fluid and individual-specific to me so far.

This post is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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