For years, it’s been taken as a given that everyone wants to be rich. Of course, not everyone can be, and the ability to be content with only a little bit is often considered a virtue. Still, in general, if you offer someone more money, they’ll probably take it, right? Not necessarily. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 90% of Americans, when presented with a choice, would choose economic stability over more money.
On the surface, the question seems a bit odd. Aren’t more money and economic stability the same thing? Or if not, at least wouldn’t an offer of the former provide you with a means to achieve the latter? Not necessarily.
A person might decide to turn down a job offer that comes with a higher wage than their current position because the hours aren’t steady. They may find themselves switching back and forth between 80-hour weeks and months with hardly any work at all. Alternately, faced with choosing between two different jobs, a person may take the one that offers better health benefits or a good pension plan, rather than the one that offers more money.
Or a person may simply take a job they’re not entirely enthused about, or which offers them less than what they were hoping to earn, simply because having a job is better than not. This is the situation in which many people find themselves. As stable jobs with a steady paycheck become harder to find, a lot of people are willing to take whatever they can get, just so they can be employed.
Stability after the Economic Crash
This mentality of favoring economic stability above other factors has become more prevalent since the economic crash of 2008. Plenty of people were sold on dreams of wealth and prosperity, in stocks, in the real estate market, and other places. But instead of getting rich, many were left with nothing.
Statistically, things are a lot better now. The unemployment rate has gone down significantly since 2008: more people are working, and fewer people are looking for work. The economy seems to be thriving. But those statistics don’t take into account how many people took a job they didn’t want, at a lower salary, just to keep the bills paid. Or how many are still unable to move from a “placeholder” job to a job in their chosen field—and how many have given up looking.
Spending time out of work, or even just at or near the poverty line, can change a person’s priorities significantly, and financial stability has become a luxury to some. According to the U.S. Financial Diaries project, even among those with middle-class incomes, many spent some time over the last year near, at, or even below the poverty line.
Living paycheck to paycheck can cause serious anxiety for a household, and having to spend time—even just a few days—without the money to buy food or pay your bills, is a nightmare. Being offered more money can help that, but unless it’s enough to put you on permanent, stable footing, you still might find yourself struggling some months just to make ends meet.
Becoming suddenly rich would be great. Buying a mansion and a yacht and taking vacations around the world is still a dream for many. But when it comes to more practical desires, a lot of Americans are no longer concerned with amassing more wealth. They just want to be able to live securely, pay their bills on time, and maintain a moderate lifestyle without having to worry whether or not they can afford it. Stability is the new American Dream.