THERE'S BEEN A CERTAIN amount of talk recently about a sea change in American values, about how people from all walks of life are taking more of an interest in hearth and home, about how the money-madness of the '80s is fading in the face of war and recession and baby-boomer glut on the management ladder. Time magazine, for example, ran a cover story in April that stated, "The pursuit of a simpler life with deeper meaning is a major shift in America's private agenda."
The article cited a poll of 500 people, of whom 69 percent said they'd like to "slow down and live a more relaxed life," and of whom only 7 percent admitted they believed status-symbol products were worth it.
But it's a long step from yearning for a simpler life to actually stepping into a simpler tax bracket.
Most of the examples Time cited of people who chose to opt for simplicity were unusually affluent individuals who'd been making more in a single year than most Americans see in five -- and they didn't exactly drop out so much as drop sideways, into some other more satisfying (but still well-paid) slot. The article left some readers asking if the "simpler life" was one for which anybody was willing to make any substantive sacrifice, or if it was just a matter of buying English country for the living room and L. L. Bean for the closet.
Other takers of the public pulse also come up with mixed results as to whether the '80s emphasis on making money is giving way to something else in the '90s. One sampling of 602 people between the ages of 18 and 29, for example, found that money ranked lowest among the factors considered very important in looking for a job -- while on the other hand, a study of incoming college freshmen nationwide found that more of them than ever before believe making more money is an important reason to go to college.
The first poll, done by Yankelovich-Clancy-Shulman for Time and CNN and made available by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research in Connecticut, found that only 59 percent of those polled ranked the money as very important in a job, while 85 percent ranked enjoying the work as very important. Other factors that pulled in more votes than money were security in keeping the job, doing something you believe in, chances for promotion and even whether the job helps you develop as a person.
But before you conclude that the nation is heading down the anti-materialist path, remember the other poll, the one of college freshmen. Done by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, that survey found that 73.2 percent named making money as an important reason to go to college -- in comparison with 63.4 percent in 1980 and only 49.9 percent in 1971.
It seems the only thing that's clear is that it's not clear if attitudes are changing.