Alexander Adames explores the ‘Costs of the American Dream’

Since the 1950s, the American dream has become synonymous with upward mobility and economic stability. If you work hard enough, you’ll be rewarded with a good-paying job, a house, a family—all the comforts and security of the middle class. The allure of the American dream has persisted through economic downturns, housing market crashes, and now a pandemic. But for whom is the dream still viable? And for those who do achieve it, what then?

Alexander Adames.
Alexander Adames, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology. (Image: OMNIA)

“It’s rare to see in research that people are interested in the consequences of mobility, because people see it as just being a good thing,” says Alexander Adames, a doctoral candidate in sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences, who studies the predictors, as well as the costs, of attaining the American dream.

Broadly, Adames’ research concerns what sociologists refer to as social stratification and social mobility, which he explains as “the prospects of people who grow up in disadvantaged households, particularly economically disadvantaged households.” The issue with the “success sequence” of the American dream, Adames says, “is that people have different access to things” like education, connections, and job opportunities. Adames’ dissertation examines how these childhood variables predict socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood, prompting other considerations such as whether social mobility comes at a cost for people from minoritized backgrounds.

“Even if you do achieve the American dream, it’s not like everything’s fine now,” Adames says, noting social costs to upward mobility like cultural and familial distancing. In a working paper co-authored with Jingying He, a postdoctoral researcher; Xi Song, associate professor of sociology; and Irma Elo, professor and chair of sociology; Adames attempts to quantify other costs, by examining how social mobility shapes a person’s mortality risk. Analyzing data from the Census and Social Security Administration records of people who were 15 to 25 years old in 1940, Adames and his co-authors hypothesized that any disparities they observed would be shaped by the measures they selected.

“The achievement of the American Dream is the modus operandi of my research,” Adames says, explaining that it not only motivated his parents to immigrate to the United States, but in many ways, guides his own interests. For his dissertation, Adames, an Institute of Education Sciences pre-doctoral training fellow, plans to examine how the strength of the associations described in his papers varies depending on the types and levels of education a person obtains. 

This story is by Duyen Nguyen. Read more at OMNIA.