Millennials Don’t Believe in the American Dream Anymore, Would Rather Be Happy than Wealthy

By: Alex Trent | Published: Feb 07, 2024

Recent research from Ford suggests that the millennial generation in America is unique to those in other Western countries in their desire for a more relaxed work-life balance.

This is part of a generational trend where younger Americans are seeking out a higher degree of work-life balance compared to older ones. Younger generations are increasingly unwilling to participate in the “corporate rat races” that defined previous generations’ relationship with work.

Working for Balance

Ford recently published a research study titled “Work For Balance.” This study asked over 16,000 workers across 16 countries their views on current topics affecting the workplace landscape today.

A woman working with multiple monitors.

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The aim of the study was to find out how people feel about having to balance work hours and other responsibilities and how it affects their aspirations for career advancement.

Most Millennials Would Sacrifice Their Paycheck

A standout statistic from the published study said that 55% percent of respondent millennials said they would be willing to take a 20% paycheck cut if they had greater freedom in defining an ideal work-life balance.

A woman resting in a hammock.

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This number increased to 60% of millennials when looking at the data just from the United States. United States millennials were more likely than other countries’ millennials to be willing to sacrifice income and pursue a more relaxing work schedule.

Who Are Millenials?

The definition of who is a millennial can vary slightly, but it is generally accepted that people born between 1981 and 1996 are considered part of the millennial generation. Millennials got their name because they grew up near the year 2000.

A millennial woman checking her phone.

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Researchers sometimes refer to millennials as “Generation Y.” This nickname comes as a continuation from the previous generation, which became colloquially known as “Generation X.”

Results from Other Generations

Millennials were much more likely to prefer relaxation over work compared to older generations. Only 43% of Gen X respondents said they would be willing to sacrifice their paycheck for a slower-paced life.

A meeting of office workers.

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An older generation, the “Baby Boomers” were even more unlikely to sacrifice their pay. Only 33% of Baby Boomers said they would take a pay cut for a better life balance.

Which Countries Were Surveyed

The Ford survey asked workers from across the world, but mainly from Western countries. The countries or areas the research took data from include Australia, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, the U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, The Middle East, South Africa, India, China, and Thailand.

A map of the world showing the major continents.

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The survey data was split into four different generations: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.


Global Average

The global average of respondents who would take a pay cut across all age groups is 52%. The country that was most likely to take a pay cut for work-life balance was Thailand, where 69% of respondents said they would be willing to earn less.

A view of the Eiffel Tower in France.

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The lowest country was France, where only 42% of those surveyed answered positively to the question.


Comments from Bentley Lewis CEO

Lewis Maleh, the CEO of Bentley Lewis, told Fortune he was not seeing any significant attempts for younger generation workers to negotiate for a healthier work-life balance in exchange for a lower salary.

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“While the desire for a better work-life balance among young workers is evident, whether they can afford to accept lower salaries to achieve this balance depends on their individual financial circumstances and the broader economic environment,” he said.


CEO of SF Recruitment Blames the Housing Crisis

Saira Demmer, CEO of SF Recruitment, thought that external factors like the housing crisis are more to blame for the attitude of younger generations valuing happiness over work compensation. In her view, the prospect of owning a house is becoming more unattainable, which kills the motivation for young people to try to climb the corporate ladder.

A group of similar-looking houses.

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“For younger employees who don’t see as close a link between the career ladder and their ability to get on the property ladder as previous generations did, the pressure just isn’t worth it,” she says.


Younger Workers Can’t Afford a Home

In 2023, Fortune reported that both Millennials and Gen Z say they have a harder time buying a house and finding a job compared to their parents.

A group of younger office workers at a meeting.

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This is especially concerning for Millennials, who should be in their prime time to become homebuyers. However, a variety of economic factors in recent years have prevented them from being able to properly afford a home in big enough numbers.


Housing Price Spike

Housing prices in America are at record levels. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the median price of a home in America jumped to $389,800, which is a record-high price. People are struggling more than ever to afford a home with this recent price increase.

A graph increasing over time.

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On the NAR’s Housing Affordability Index, the price of a home is below 100, which means that the median income for the average family is less than required to afford a home.


Future for Millennials

As Millennials age, the consequences of their inability to accrue generational wealth may present problems for them and the economy at large. Owning a home is highly correlated with the ability to generate wealth and transfer it to future generations.

A man arranges his hands to create a camera frame.

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Without Millennials having an investment in a home to pass on to their kids, it could result in an economic spiral that future generations will struggle to overcome.