The term “Yuppies” is deciphered as Young Upwardly-Mobile Urban Professionals. The word came to signify a cultural subgroup of professional young people coming from middle and upper middle classes. Their emergence in the 1980s as a separate group resulted in part as counteraction to the social ideals of the 1970s, including counterculture notions. Some of those that were originally into the protesting and hippie movement took a different approach and moved into well-paid white collar jobs.
Being people in their late twenties or early thirties, they tended to postpone marriage and family and as a result their sizeable incomes were free to spend on luxury items and things underscoring their status. The young couples that both had nice incomes and delayed starting a family were named with another catchy abbreviation – dinks (double income, no kids). They could afford to have more fun than their parents who at the same age were burdened with a family to support.
The name for the group came into existence “for the modest purpose of explaining Gary Hart’s unexpected success in the 1984 presidential primaries” (Ehrenreich 1989). Coining the term to denote a group of young urban middle- and upper middle-class people that voted for the Democratic candidate, the journalists created the yuppies as a distinct social group. Another version is that the word was first used by columnist Bob Greene in a 1981 publication in the Chicago Tribune entitled “Chicago: City on the brink” (Wikipedia: Yuppies).
Since then, a new concept appeared and gave some potential ‘yuppies’ to form a new social identity through belonging to this class. However, very quickly the name came to mean young people with ‘lousy values’ (Ehrenreich 1989). Thus, the notion was extrapolated not so much to the demographic characteristics as to the consumption patterns and cultural values, beliefs, and attitudes. Defining the number of official yuppies brings one to the conclusion that their number was rather limited. This is somewhat surprising for a group that aroused such vehement reactions.
In the 1980s, yuppies included “people born between 1945 and 1959, earning over $40,000 a year in a professional or managerial occupation, and living in urban areas” and numbered about 1. 5 million (Ehrenreich 1989). Although this is not a lot for a nation like the US, the fervent reaction to the yuppies was explained in part to the attention captured from the media and profound influence on lifestyles and culture of the 1980s. Yuppie views and values were imitated, for instance, by those young people who had lower incomes but would love to attain the material status of their richer peers.
A Change in Lifestyles
The main object for criticism was a difference in lifestyle exhibited by yuppies as opposed to their hippie counterparts and the generation of their parents that grew up in the period of the Great Depression and were used to spending money sparingly. The America of the 1980s saw a consumption boom triggered by a rise in average incomes. Naturally, young professionals with incomes in the upper brackets were the ones who could have a greater share of the pie. Yuppies “had been raised with a sense of their own importance and entitlement, and they had been given jobs with salaries that reinforced that sense” (Gianoulis).
This led to a change in values. Yuppies began to value fun their parents were for the most part deprived of, and professional activities seemed not such a serious challenge any more. In contrast to the political and sometimes revolutionary ideas of the youth in the previous decades, the yuppies preferred a life of leisure and comfort. In a desire to make use of their comfortable incomes, they spent the money earned they were “often going into debt to purchase on high-priced status symbols and expensive adult playthings” (Gianoulis).
These toys were appreciated for the glow of status they bestowed on their owners, thus, the price level was geared to the means of the yuppies, making them consume much of their income in pursuit of these toys for grown-ups. The range of status toys included expensive Swiss watches, designer clothing, visits to expensive restaurants, and status cars. The appearance of the yuppie class gave an impetus to the development of pricey status brands. The gauge for the attractiveness of the purchase became the cost of the item and the prestige associated with it.
Lexus, BMW, Audi, Mercedes- Benz and other pricey cars became the favourite yuppie cars. They were also into technical innovations, including the then costly mobile phones. Development housing was an attractive option for the high-income professionals. Even in the consumption of drugs, patterns were different from the previous generation: instead of the more ‘democratic’ marijuana of the hippies, yuppies turned to expensive cocaine. “Whoever dies with the most toys, wins,” and “Who says you can’t have it all? ” embodied the philosophy driving consumption to unprecedented levels (Gianoulis).