Overview: While popular culture encourages all of us to “dream big,” researchers say it’s important to ground those dreams with a dose of reality.
Source: Rutgers University
“Social location” – where class, race, gender, stage of life, or unexpected disruptions to one’s life place a person in the wider society – influences what, when, how and whether a person dreams about the future.
In other words, people are free to dream about possibilities such as becoming a movie star, traveling worldwide or getting a new promotion, but not all dreamers are created equal, according to “Dreams of a Lifetime: How Who We Are Shapes How We Imagine Our Future”, published this month.
Karen Cerulo, professor of sociology at Rutgers, co-authored the book with Janet Ruane, professor emeritus of sociology at Montclair State University. The two spoke to nearly 300 people about their dreams for the future.
They surveyed people from different social class backgrounds; different races and genders; and at different stages of life – newlyweds, new parents, people starting new jobs, recent immigrants, and people experiencing severe hardship, such as poverty, homelessness, severe medical diagnoses, or unemployment.
“The promise of Jiminy Cricket: ‘If you wish for a star, it doesn’t matter who you are. Everything your heart desires will come to you,’ said Cerulo.
“But for others, it’s a false promise. We understand that class, race, gender, age and tragedy can create inequalities in life’s opportunities, but we are also told that anything is possible. Here we show that dreams are limited in ways we are not fully aware of.”
Differences in men and women
According to the study, men and women are equally likely to dream of career achievement and the opportunity to help others or donate large sums of money later on.
Gender differences became more apparent with dream themes distributed along traditional gender lines. For example, men were about twice as likely to identify adventure as a dream theme (16 percent vs. 9 percent) and more than women to speak of fame, wealth, and power (15 percent vs. 11 percent).
In contrast, women were almost twice as likely as men to identify family as a dream theme — mainly because family related to motherhood and family unity (18 percent vs. 10 percent) and focused more on appearance consistent with gender socialization.
Women were more likely to say they never give up on their dreams (74 percent versus 63 percent) and believed their dreams were realistic (86 percent versus 63 percent). About two-thirds of women felt there was a 70 percent or greater chance that their dreams would come true, while only 48 percent of men felt so. Both groups said dreaming was important, but women were more adamant: 93 percent of women advocated dreaming versus 77 percent of men.
Latinxs are less optimistic
Most people of all racial groups felt that their dreams were realistic and achievable. More than two-thirds of Asian, black, multiracial and white respondents believed they had a 70 percent or better chance of achieving their dreams.
But Latinx respondents were less positive about these issues. Just over half saw their dreams as realistic, while only 41 percent felt there was a 70 percent or greater chance that their dreams would come true. Latinx respondents were more likely than any white, black, and Asian to express negative cultural lessons about dreams, such as believing it’s futile because “the deck is stacked and the system rigged.”
The American Dream
Cerulo and Ruane examined how dreams are represented in American popular culture, identified positive and negative lessons about dreams, and used data to report on people’s dreams at different points in time.
Survey data showed that four times as many Americans were optimistic about the country’s future versus pessimism, while 82 percent of Americans said their “American dream” has already been achieved or is within reach. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to national polls said they are optimistic about their personal future.
Even among minority groups, who are most likely to face structural disadvantages as they work toward achieving their dreams, optimism ran high—sometimes higher than among whites.
Cerulo says American culture encourages people to dream big. However, it is important to ground those dreams with a dose of reality.
“When teachers say, ‘You can be anything you want, even President of the United States,’ and fail to explain how politics, money, and power are intertwined, they lay the groundwork for feelings of personal failure and resentment,” she said. said.
Studying dreams offers a new avenue for a better understanding of inequalities that precede action or outcome.
The researchers said easing the burden of inequality will really help deliver on Jiminy Cricket’s promise to all people, not just some people.
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