YUPPIES

Guilt-edged achievers

Brian D. Johnson January 6 1986
YUPPIES

Guilt-edged achievers

Brian D. Johnson January 6 1986

Guilt-edged achievers

YUPPIES

For years they have been known collectively as “the baby boomers”—the postwar generation that swelled university enrolment and filled the streets with protest in the 1960s and 1970s. But recently, pundits and marketing strategists have focused on the achievers among that generation, and given them a new name, “yuppies”—an acronym for young upwardly mobile (or, alternatively, young urban) professionals. According to media legend the typical yuppie, 25 to 40 years old, lives in a condominium, owns a VCR, drives a BMW, wears designer socks, dines out on linguini and, above all, is consumed by the pursuit of success. Perhaps inevitably, given such terms of reference, the yuppie label has become a mark of derision as well as distinction. In fact, a pair of Toronto entrepreneurs have cashed in on the joke by forming Yupco Inc., which manufactures gifts designed to poke fun at yuppies. Before Christmas it sold $1 million worth of mugs, sweatshirts, scarves, oven mitts and other paraphernalia branded with the company’s “Official Yuppie” trademark. “I’m sure no one likes being labelled,” said Yupco’s 33-year-old president, Pierre Perrenoud, “but this is a way of labelling someone in a humorous way.”

Clearly, yuppiedom is rife with ambivalence. Still, when asked to classify themselves, 11 per cent of respondents in The Maclean ’s/Decima Poll called them-

CSome people say that yuppies are different from previous generations in a number of key ways. For each of the following, Fd like you , to tell me whether you think yuppies are more, less, or the same as previous generations. Concern about getting material goods: More Concerned — 59% About as Concerned 29% Less Concerned - 10% Concern about themselves: More Concerned -68 % About as Concerned -26 % Less Concerned 4% Interest in what’s going on in the world: More Interested — 47% About as Interested 33% Less Interested18%

selves yuppies, and another 18 per cent—including fully 48 per cent of the 18and 19-year-olds—expected to become yuppies in the future. But in many cases the answers were based on little familiarity with the term yuppie. Indeed, half the respondents did not know the term at all before the pollster defined it for them as “young upwardly mobile professional.” The term is best known in urban centres—particularly the Toronto region,

where 78 per cent of respondents recognized it. But even among the poll respondents who had heard of it, the yuppie label appears to be a source of considerable division of opinion. Thirty-one per cent of them said that it had a positive connotation, 28 per cent said negative, and the remaining 40 per cent considered it neutral. Tom Barnett, 33, a Toronto electrician, was one poll participant who told Maclean's he does not mind being called a yuppie. “Coming up through the 1960s, we were against labels,” he explained. “But now that the

rebelliori years are gone, we’ve become goal-oriented.”

Still, even among self-described yuppies only a bare majority (54 per cent) thought the term was a “positive” description. Glen Maddison, 34, a physician in Sarnia, Ont., reluctantly conceded he is a yuppie but hastily added in a subsequent interview that he lacks the usual trappings. Although he and his wife, Monique, also a physician, earn a combined annual income of about $150,000 and own a home worth more than $175,000, they do not own a VCR, food processor or other luxury gadgets associated with yuppiedom. Maddison drives to work at two local hospitals in a three-year-old Honda Civic and resists the lure of high-class consumerism. Still, he enjoys spending $100 on a good meal—or on a new pair of jogging shoes to support his devotion to long-distance running.

Not suprisingly, 70 per cent of non-yuppies polled said yuppies were more concerned about themselves compared to previous generations.

But 66 per cent of self-described yuppies agreed with them—a sign that most yuppies are conscious of their own materialism. And that awareness may be tinged with guilt; only a third of the poll’s avowed yuppies considered themselves “more concerned than previous generations about helping the disadvantaged and the poor” and “more committed to ethics and principles.”

Material: Acknowledging their own consumerism, 53 per cent of self-described yuppies conceded they are more concerned than their elders about “getting material goods.” On the other hand, some young upwardly mobile professionals have clearly discarded the yuppie label and the values it implies. One of them is Cindy Pearce, 28, a Vancouver forester who left a lucrative B.C. government job three years ago to take a teaching post. At the same time, she abandoned a lifestyle that included a BMW, a fancy town house and “all the gadgets.” Declared Pearce: “I began to feel very uncomfortable, because I found those things had no real value to me.” Pearce grew up as a logger’s daughter in British Columbia’s Kootenay Mountains, and as her career burgeoned she was embarrassed to see her standard of living overtake her parents’. Last fall she returned to university for graduate studies. “I could have grabbed as much as I damn well pleased,” she said, “but it didn’t please me anymore.”

Guilt: For many yuppies—notably those who have opted in their mid-30s to settle down and have children—stability and affluence are marred by a gnawing sense of guilt. A generation that honed its analytical skills on social issues in the 1960s now often uses them to juggle consumer options. Said 36-year-old Robert Becker, who runs a small land-surveying business in Bridgewater, N.S.: “You always feel a little guilty about acquiring material things. You get a VCR and then you sit there and wonder why. You wonder where you can stop and do something for the world.” Raised by strict Mennonite parents, Becker is now married, and he and his wife, Kelly, have two children, aged 1 and years. He spent much of his life “sailing and wandering around” before

studying to become a surveyor. And despite his current status as an upwardly mobile professional, he claims to live a simple life: “We’re just mucking along with a mortgage and working as hard as we can changing diapers like everyone else.” Still, Becker dreams of sailing a small boat around the world. “I guess that’s pretty hedonistic,” he admitted.

Woopies: Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are refining their strategies to turn yuppiedom into a lucrative concept. Perrenoud of Yupco Inc. says he says he will extend his trademark from novelty gifts to serious designer clothes that will display the Official Yuppie logo more discretely. Already, he has secured a trademark for Yuppie Puppies, a label designed to sell what he

calls “a better-quality line of kids’ clothes.” Meanwhile, a generation of aging consumers who are outgrowing their yuppie status can look forward to new labels. David Currah of Feathers, an interior design outlet in Burlington, Ont., defines his clientele as “well-established professional types whose children have left for universities or careers.” He calls them well-off older people—or “woopies” for short. -BRIAN D. JOHNSON in Toronto