AP Seminar Final

Matt Mackeben

Step 1

My Research Question

Is the American Dream still achievable in today's society?

During the recent presidential debates, many candidates alluded to following the American Dream and having it lead them to wealth and success. These allusions caused an outburst of articles questioning whether or not the American Dream is a reality for everyone in modern times. The traditional model of the American Dream was that hard work and playing by the rules would give you the opportunities to succeed and make a better life for yourself. In today's society, the dream has become purely measured by wealth and not by the traditional benchmarks. Some of those traditional benchmarks are owning a house, having a good education, getting a decent job, having decent health and medical care, having enough food to eat, and providing a good life for your family. So is it possible to go from nothing to living the original American Dream?

Step 2

Part A - Identify the various lenses and perspectives

Social & Cultural

-Social Mobility

-Different cultural backgrounds

Artistic & Philosophical

-What if someone doesn't realize they want to live the American Dream until later in life

-Is following the American Dream really best option to become successful in today's society?


-could go against a person's morals of how much time should be devoted to work


-How much money you make is largely dependent on your education

-It is possible to make a lot of money purely through hard work


-Circumstances have to be right

-Should have had a proper education

-Less fortunate people may not have the same opportunities


-Could lose job

-Budget cuts could result in a cut salary

Political & Historical

-Many people have been able to do it before

-The definition has changed over time


-Science does not play a roll in this topic

Part B - Rationalize your top 3 choices

Economic Lense

I chose to investigate the economic lens because many of the benchmarks and measures of the American dream are measured by wealth. Things such as food, a house, and a better life than you started with are all either measured or purchased with money. Money and economics also plays a huge roll in the social/cultural and environmental lenses in this issue. The social/cultural lens looks into social mobility which is highly dependent on money. The environmental lens regarding this issue is mainly about what social class a person is raised in. Again, social classes are defined by the amount of wealth that a certain family has.

Environmental Lense

A big part of the American Dream is making your own opportunities and making yourself a better life. The environmental lens looks into the opportunities that are presented for people part of the upper class, versus those who are part of the lower class. One example of this is that those who are rich already can leverage the money that they have already to make them more money by investing it. On the other hand, people who aren't as wealthy don't have the spare money to do this. They must spend their money on more immediate needs such as food and rent.

Social/Cultural Lense

Because the American Dream relies so much on social classes and the ability to change social classes, I chose to look into the social/cultural lens. The ability to change social classes is known as social mobility and is a highly discussed topic among financial writers. Social mobility rates are a huge indicator of the American Dream because it allows for a comparison of opportunity between the "Land of Opportunity" and foreign countries. If the American Dream is still alive, that means America should have more opportunities than other countries, resulting in higher social mobility rates.

Part C - Sources

Casselman, B., & Flowers, A. (2016, February 1). Rich Kids Stay Rich, Poor Kids Stay Poor. Retrieved from Five Thirty Eight website:


Ben Casselman is the chief economics writer for Five Thirty Eight. Andrew Flowers is the quantitative editor for Five Thirty Eight. Both writers believe that the rich tend to stay rich and that the poor tend to stay poor. They have found plenty of research to support the argument that they are making. Wealthier children tend to be more likely to go to college, get a job, and make more money. At the very beginning of the argument they state “In the U.S., where you come from [...] plays a major role in determining where you will end up later in life”(Casselman & Flowers, 2016).

Friedman, H. S. (2012, July 16). The American myth of social mobility. Retrieved from Huffington Post website:


Howard Steven Friedman is a statistician and health economist for the United Nations and teaches at Columbia University. In Howard’s article “The American Myth Of Social Mobility”, he claims that social mobility in America isn’t as realistic as citizens like to believe that it is. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, so it should have the highest social mobility rates. The rate of people going from the poorest quintile in the U.S. to the richest quintile is only “7.9 percent, far lower than that of the other countries, where rates ranged from 10.9 percent to 14.4 percent”(Friedman, 2012).

Wesby, M. (2015, August 17). Why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Retrieved from Newsweek website:


Maya Wesby has written many articles that cover a wide variety of topics, from economics, politics, and foreign customs to name a few. Maya claims that the rich stay rich because the money that they have can be used to ensure that their children have plenty of tools to become just as successful as they are or more. Because of this, “a child born into a high-income family has easy access to luxurious resources”(Wesby, 2015).

What I've concluded

After assessing numerous sources and lenses, I have come to the conclusion that the American Dream is no longer a reality. Nowadays, it doesn't only matter how hard you work and your determination, it matters where you come from. People born into lower social classes are just proven to not be as successful as those born into higher social classes. Also, America doesn't necessarily have the best opportunities for those at the bottom of the social ladder. Much less people in the lowest social class will make it to the top class in the U.S. than in other countries. The amount of money a family has also has a massive impact. More fortunate families have easy access to luxurious resources to ensure their children's success while lower class families focus their money on more immediate needs such as food and paying rent. In order for someone to follow the American Dream, they would likely have to be born into a family that is already doing well in order to have the right opportunities.