Dinks--Double Income, No Kids--Is Baby-Boomers’ Newest Moniker
Newlyweds Nancy Kendall and Patrick McCabe of West Los Angeles first bumped into the term at a recent party. “Someone was saying that we’re not yuppies anymore, we’re dinks, “ Kendall recalled. “I felt vaguely insulted.”
Advertising executive Tom O’Sullivan discovered it in New York magazine last month, then discussed it in the UCLA Extension marketing course he teaches. “Dink is just a great word,” he said. “It’s like a good dirty joke. It makes it from coast to coast in seconds.”
No, dink is not derivative of the common adjective dinky. Rather, dink is an acronym for “double income, no kids,” a shorthand way of describing the millions of baby-boom couples who work for wages and, so far, don’t have children. For those who are sick of the yuppie-buppie-guppie method of branding various socioeconomic groups, the debut of dink is being greeted with audible gasps of horror. But that’s nothing compared to the reactions of dinks themselves.
“When someone I work with accused me of being a dink, it was annoying,” said Deborah Ashin, marketing director for California magazine. “I got so tired of being called a yuppie. Now having another label attached to my life is too much. But being part of the baby boomers means you get lumped in with everyone.”
Attorney Lisa Specht, half of a dink couple, also was less than thrilled. “My reaction to the term is that I don’t like being stereotyped.”
Not surprisingly, the origin of dink is a hot topic of speculation. New York magazine associate editor Amy Virshup may well have been the first writer to use it in print. She, in turn, traced it to a conversation aboard a New York commuter train.
“I got it from an architect friend who got it from another architect friend who got it from a Wall Street type who heard it on the train from Scarsdale,” she said.
Other people swear it started in Toronto. Some claim to have seen it in the Wall Street Journal. And a few are convinced that there’s a little man working in the bowels of the Washington bureaucracy whose job it is to invent annoying acronyms. More likely than not, however, dink originated in the advertising community.
“We accuse Madison Avenue of so many things, this sounds like one more thing we’d accuse them of doing,” said Valerie Folkes, assistant USC professor of marketing, who discovered the acronym a few weeks ago.
Still, Folkes thinks dink has invaded the vernacular for legitimate reasons.
“People in marketing are always watching changing demographics to see where there might be opportunities. . . . Of course, there have always been childless couples. But what we see now is that they are a large enough portion of the population where we can identify them as a worthwhile segment to go after.”
O’Sullivan, a partner in the mid-Wilshire advertising agency Kollewe & O’Sullivan, agreed: “I’m sure that somebody said ‘Eureka!’ when they found dink. Because it works, and you can remember it.”
Like it or not, there are several factors working to turn dinks into a bona fide trend. Foremost is the surging presence of American women in the labor force: From 1965 to 1985, the number of women with jobs almost doubled. Among 25- to 34-year-old married couples, two-thirds of the wives are working for wages, compared with fewer than half a decade ago.
Secondly, these two-career couples can beat inflation and income stagnation; in real dollar terms, their combined salaries have steadily increased in the last two decades, while singles and married couples with children have suffered.
A 1985 research report prepared for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on the economic future of the baby boom notes that for the past decade, “the American economy has been in a quiet depression in which neither wages nor family incomes have grown.”
As a result, according to the study’s authors, University of Maryland Prof. Frank Levy and the Urban Institute’s Richard Michel, “today a 30-year-old man is earning about 10% less than his father earned when the young man left home.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the typical young American family--husband, wife and child under 12--is having a tough time. With a median pretax family income totaling $25,157 in 1984, there’s “hardly enough to buy a BMW and eat out regularly,” the researchers contend. And home ownership remains out of reach for most.
Only one group has fared dramatically better--double-income, no-kids couples. In 1985, their median income was $36,431.
“Only by postponing kids and having two incomes have these couples found they can achieve those very high material aspirations that all baby boomers start out with,” Levy explained. “That’s how they stay ahead of the curve.”
Children Drain Income
Indeed, a child’s drain on a couple is staggering in monetary terms. The Urban Institute has calculated that by the start of the 1980s, the cost of raising the so-called “average” kid to age 18 had reached $82,400.
“When you don’t have to spend for baby furniture and private schooling, you have more disposable income for adult toys,” Folkes noted.
Thirdly, more married couples are delaying childbirth or opting not to have children at all. Compared with 1965, the number of first births per 1,000 women in 1985 declined dramatically in the 20-to-24 age group while it nearly doubled in the 30-to-34 and the 35-to-39 age brackets. And couples without children are on the rise. Today, one out of four married or divorced women between 24 and 34 has never had a child, compared with one out of 10 such women in 1960.
The U.S. Census Bureau cannot provide statistics on the number of double-income, no-kids couples in the United States. But it’s safe to say their numbers are well into the millions.
Staying That Way
What makes the trend suddenly stand out, however, is the fact that dinks are staying dinks longer.
Back in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, newlyweds normally spent a brief year on their own before starting a family. And only the most avant-garde husbands “allowed” their wives to work for wages. Today, it’s not unusual for wives to earn more than their husbands, or for couples to remain a twosome for five or 10 years before baby makes three.
And the whole phenomenon of couples questioning whether to have children at all is a development peculiar to the 1970s and 1980s.
The business, advertising and media communities have been somewhat slow to jump on the dink bandwagon. Food manufacturers still insist on making products in only two sizes, “Soup for One” and “Family Size.” Advertisers have finally discovered the single person, but they often overlook dinks.
That is, until recently.
New Media Darlings
Now ad agencies are trying to find a way to reach these people who rarely watch TV, let their magazines go unread and barely have enough time each day to breathe. They’re “time poor,” in ad lingo.
“So you’ve got to be very selective about what media you utilize to reach them,” notes Faith Popcorn, chairman of the New York marketing consultancy firm BrainReserve.
Network television almost by accident gave us a double-income, no-kids couple in the 1970s--remember “The Bob Newhart Show” with Bob and Emily?--and then proceeded to dwell on their peculiarities. ABC’s “Jack and Mike” is the only current network series that regularly explores the trials and tribulations of genuine dinks. In fact, it was fan mail that convinced the show’s producers to zero in more on the couple’s emotional conflicts.
“What we have is a couple trying to keep their high-profile careers going and at the same time trying to keep a marriage going in this day and age,” the show’s executive producer, David Gerber, said. “We felt it was somewhat different for television.”
‘People Who Pay Too Much
It’s still too early to tell whether dink will take on the same kind of pejorative connotations that turned yuppie into a near insult. Already, there is some negative feeling--or maybe it’s just dink envy among “sinks” (single income, no kids), “zinks” (zero income, no kids) “diks” (double incomes who fink out and have kids) and “siks” (single income and kids).
“(Dinks are) probably people who pay too much for everything--their house, their food,” writer Virshup said. “You know, the kind of couple with a personal computer.”
For anyone trying to keep score, a dink couple can consist of two yuppies, but not always. The reason is that double-income, no-kids couples can come from a wide variety of age, income and educational levels.
“Just because they’re dinks doesn’t mean they’re better educated or better placed in the work force,” O’Sullivan said. “A dink couple can consist of a blue-collar husband and a wife employed in a secretarial position. But, between them, they make substantially more than the average family income.”
But even achieving yuppiedom is easier with two incomes. For instance, according to Money Power Confidential, a San Francisco financial newsletter, it cost $30,829.45 last year to buy the 10 essential items that yuppies can’t be yuppies without--including Reebok Hi-Tops, BMWs and Cuisinarts.
Can’t Forget the IRS
But dink life styles are not all mirror-polished Jaguars and butter-leather Italian couches. For one thing, there’s the IRS to contend with.
For years, married couples in which both spouses earned wages paid higher taxes than similar unmarried couples, a discrepancy that became known as the “marriage penalty.” Finally, two-career married couples were granted partial tax relief in the form of the “two-earner reduction,” under which the spouse with the lower salary could deduct 10% of his or her income up to a limit of $3,000. But the new tax reform package eliminates this special consideration.
“So dinks are going to be dinked the hardest,” said Greg Hawran, 33, a dink husband. He and his wife, Sydney, 31, are real estate appraisers living in Corona del Mar.
There are, however, certain characteristics that distinguish dinks from everyone else.
More often than not, dink wives use their maiden names at work--a fact that helps to confuse nearly everyone except their closest family members and friends. Dinks take numerous vacations, often to exotic locales, and seem equally at home schussing down ski slopes or acquiring a Caribbean tan. One dink spouse usually does all the cooking, and frequently it’s the husband.
Go for the ‘Best’
Dinks can afford to rent in the “best” neighborhoods or buy a house within the first two years of marriage, usually a design by a well-known local architect. Dinks make exercise and community service a regular part of their weekly routines, alternating fund-raising events with bouts on the rowing machine.
In addition, dinks can afford to indulge in cultural chic. From a marketing standpoint, dinks are “entertainment crazy,” in the words of Faith Popcorn, whether it’s going out for dinner several times a week or just watching their VCR.
“These are people who’ll watch two to three movies in a night--at least until the kids come, when they’ll be more amused by something more real,” Popcorn said.
But most time-consuming of all, dinks spend half their waking hours comparing and coordinating their overstuffed work schedules in order to make time for their marriage.
No wonder it’s joked that they can’t have sex without making an appointment ahead of time.
“Sex? What’s that?” a dink wife (who asked not to be identified) said with a sad laugh. “But it’s not that bad. After all, we both have very interesting jobs.”