Scott Winship highlights interesting survey data about Americans’ perceptions of the American dream.

[F]ive definitions fell short of a majority. These included “being middle class,” “becoming rich,” “owning your own business,” “having enough income to afford a few of life’s luxuries, like vacations and eating out,” and “getting married and having children.”

Five definitions garnered more support, but with less than two-thirds of respondents giving them a score of 8 to 10. They included “getting a college degree or advanced education,” “being able to succeed regardless of the economic circumstances in which you were born,” “owning a house,” “being financially secure,” and “your children being better off financially than you.”

To our surprise, the two most popular definitions invoked not economic outcomes, but freedom and initiative. The second-most-popular definition was “being free to say or do what you want”; the top description was “being free to accomplish almost anything you want with hard work.” That winning description involved a view of opportunity that values work ethic and individual responsibility while remaining agnostic about the outcomes people should desire.

Another survey — this one by AEI in mid-2018 — asked how important different descriptions were “to your own view of the American Dream.” The winner was “to have freedom of choice in how to live one’s life,” which beat out “to become wealthy,” “to have a better quality of life than your parents,” “to have a successful career,” “to own a home,” “to retire comfortably,” and others by a wide margin.

From these results, it appears that those who simply equate flourishing in America with economic success are mistaken: When it comes to achieving the American Dream, such outcomes are not necessarily Americans’ primary goal.

But Americans do want to live in a society where rising by their own effort is possible, and where opportunity is widely available. The complexity of public views on that subject should lead us to dig deeper into the ideal of opportunity, its connection to mobility, and the ways in which both include economic outcomes but also extend beyond them.