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From Blue Collar to Gold Collar: The Emergence of a New Class; Research Reveals a New Breakdown of Working Class Youth


CHICAGO, IL -- March 1, 2005 -- When you think of the term “working class”, what images come to mind? Are the images of twenty-somethings wearing high-end clothing, carrying Louis Vuitton bags and sipping Starbucks coffee? Global research agency, Synovate, has released startling findings from a recent study on youth in America that show the emergence of a new working class demographic, coined appropriately as “gold collar.” Extensive research conducted throughout the US indicates that while the “traditional blue collar” demographic still remains, “gold collar” is a new sub-segment within this group different in their lifestyle, career ambitions and financial approach.

Who are the Working Class Youth of 2005?

There are an estimated 17 million working class youth in the United States, which accounts for 53 percent of the population aged 18 to 25(1). Based on Synovate’s research, working class youth predominantly seek a simple life, make “comfortable” life decisions, are infrequent users of technology and are cautious to move outside their comfort zones. They embrace adulthood through full-time work, (77 percent are happy with their current jobs(2)) and take on “adult” responsibilities such as car payments, bills, and often marriage and child rearing at a young age. Their long-term goals are to be comfortable financially and to support their families.

Blue Collar vs. Gold Collar

Synovate has revealed that a dichotomy exists with the working class. There are “blue collar traditionalists” who represent an estimated 61 percent of working class youth in the US and fit the familiar classification, and “gold collar” youth(2). The “blue collar traditionalists” tend to:

-- Work in industries with union membership, often following a family tradition

-- Reject status consumption

-- Resist social change

-- Stick to same friend groups, social pastimes and hangouts

-- Value having family/settling down

-- Have forefathers recognized for being “The Backbone of America” and credited with building the nation’s economic power

-- Value independence: more likely to pay rent than live with their parents

-- Spend an average of $609/ month on themselves on discretionary items(2) (students spend $287/month)(3)

“Gold collar” represent an estimated 39 percent of working class youth in the US and vary considerably with the key difference that they are seeking identity(2). To overcome this, they root themselves in status consumption and pop culture. Some key characteristics of this group:

-- Work in new industries (service), and have no clear career path, but many options

-- Are often new to the USA - recent immigrants or children of immigrants

-- Determine status through high end fashion, Starbucks, latest cell phones

-- Put independent living on the backburner to avoid sacrificing consumption

-- Aspire to upper middle class or celebrity occupations

-- Spend an average of $729/month on themselves on discretionary items and few save for the future(2)

The Influence of the Working Classes - “Cross Class Borrowing”

It is a shock to many that an estimated 53 percent of the population aged 18 to 25 is classified as ’“working class.” It is a demographic well worth observing - because of their spending habits and because of their cultural influence on other classes, or “cross class borrowing.” Middle and upper classes borrow music and fashion from the working class as seen with labels such as Von Dutch and American Eagle, or even with the high-end fashion trend. Such is its influence now at 53 percent, and as this demographic grows as experts predict, this impact will also be on the rise and well worth monitoring.


1. US Census Bureau, Educational Attainment 2003

2. Synovate US TeleNation January 2005

3. 360 Youth/Harris Interactive College Explorer Study 2002


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