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Who Lives The American Dream?

More Americans feel that they've achieved the American dream than said so four years ago, a CBS News/New York Times poll finds. In a survey taken in April and released Monday, 44 percent of those surveyed said they have achieved the American dream, up 12 points from 2005.

Another 31 percent say they will reach the American dream in their lifetime. Twenty percent think that the American dream is beyond their grasp.

Unsurprisingly, attitudes on the topic are correlated to income levels. More than half (58 percent) of those who make more than $50,000 per year say they have achieved the American dream, while only a third of those who make under $50,000 say so.

Older Americans are also more likely to say they've achieved the American dream than younger people.

But what, exactly, is the American dream? Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed chose "freedom and opportunity," making it the top answer. That was followed by "being successful" (18 percent), "financial security and a job" (13 percent) "having a home" (9 percent), and "happiness/peace of mind" (6 percent).

Nearly three in four Americans (72 percent) believe that Americans who start out poor have the opportunity to get rich despite their initial circumstances. But optimism is diminished from two years ago, when 81 percent felt that such social mobility was possible. Americans with lower levels of education and income are less likely to believe they have a chance to becoming wealthy.

Definitions of wealth also vary. Just over half of Americans (51 percent) will call a family wealthy if its income falls between $100,000 and $400,000 per year. The bar is higher for another 16 percent, whose definition of wealth is between $400,000 and a million dollars. Seven percent said that only millionaires can be thought of as rich in this country.

Concerns about standard of living are on the rise. While 58 percent of Americans said that their standard of living is better than that of their parents, that percentage is down eight points since 2005. Only 43 percent of parents think that their children will have a better standard of living than they do, a drop of 13 points from 2005.

Read The Complete Poll (PDF)

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 998 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone April 1-5, 2009. Phone numbers were dialed from RDD samples of both standard land-lines and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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