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Tweeners : They're Just Yuppies Who Live the Sensible Life

January 24, 1988|NIKKI FINKE | Times Staff Writer

When the term yuppie came into vogue, Los Angeles banker Don Ercole seemed to superficially fit the stereotype. "I assumed they were talking about me, and I resented it," the 31-year-old Bankers Trust executive recalls. "I felt I worked hard and deserved whatever I was getting. But, at the same time, I thought they were referring to those very conspicuous consumers, and I wasn't going overboard like some other people I knew.

"Heck," he said. "I still don't have a VCR."

In fact, Ercole isn't a yuppie at all. He's a tweener.

No, tweener is not an acronym, anagram or anything tricky like those other mind-numbing monikers that baby boomers have suffered: hippies, yippies, yuppies, dinks. Rather, it's the invention of a New York journalist who borrowed the term from baseball. Just as a tweener--in sports--is a hit that falls between two outfielders, so it follows that a tweener--in a larger context--is a well-educated and affluent young professional caught between his low-rent roots and his high-paying career.

"I didn't invent the word," shrugs ABC News correspondent Bill O'Reilly, who claims to be a tweener himself. "I just applied it to a certain group of people--people like me and my friends. The only way I could get my point across was to give us a label."

Unlike a yuppie who sheds his past as easily as a snake sheds its skin, the tweener wants to hold onto the values of his working-class upbringing while tasting some of the good things in life. But not to excess. That translates into shiny new Hondas instead of shiny new BMWs, CD (certificate of deposit) savings instead of CD (compact disc) players, cash instead of credit cards.

"It's being told: 'Just don't forget where you came from because in the long run you're going to be miserable because then you'll be something you're not,' " explains Cynthia Chvatal, a 32-year-old Hollywood producer whose roots are solidly Illinois blue-collar Czech.

But that doesn't always mean tweeners can or want to go home again for anything longer than one of their frequent visits. "Most of the guys I went to high school with are working at the foundry or in construction," Chvatal notes. "The girls are all housewives with two or three little babies. So I'm a real oddball. But would I be comfortable living the way they live?"

She pauses to reflect. "No," she says softly. "I don't mean to sound judgmental because they're very happy. But I can't think of anything worse."

Experts Suspected the Existence

Actually, demographers, political scientists and marketing experts have suspected the existence of tweeners for some time. But no one had a nice, neat nickname for them until now.

"They're the latest group to be discovered," sighs Samuel Craig, professor of marketing at New York University's Graduate School of Business. "In some respects, the bloom is off yuppies so there has to be another new hot group to take their place."

Tom O'Sullivan, a partner in the Mid-Wilshire advertising agency Kollewe & O'Sullivan, sees tweeners as the product of changing psychographics, not changing demographics. "I think these people have been there all the time and in very large numbers," he says, "But they've been somewhat invisible because the free-spending yuppie segment has been in the forefront."

Estelle Ellis, president of Manhattan-based Business Image, a creative marketing company that tracks social trends, claims responsibility for the idea of tweeners, if not the label. She says that O'Reilly's concept really came from an interview that she gave to a business journal two years ago.

Also claiming credit is political theorist Ralph Whitehead at the University of Massachusetts who in 1985 coined the term "new collar voters" (see Chronology of Labels). He sees tweeners as a subset of the newest baby-boomer bloc he recently identified: so-called "bright collar" workers. "It seems to me that a lot of the tweener category and the bright-collar category strongly overlap," he explains.

In fact, no one knows for sure how many tweeners there are nationwide. But several experts put the number at around 15 million--less than the 20-million well-educated young managers and professionals which Whitehead describes as "bright-collar" workers, and more than the estimated 4 million yuppies shopping madly at Bullock's and Bloomingdale's.

But who are tweeners? And are they as shallow and shamelessly acquisitive as yuppies?

An exact definition is difficult because tweeners are staunch individualists. "These people haven't made a conscious decision to be this way," O'Reilly says. "Nobody said, 'Here are the rules to be a tweener. Let's follow them.' There's not a polo pony logo to bind us all together."

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