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A TCI Book Review

Sex in the Snow - Canadian Social Values at the End of the Millennium

Michael Adams
Viking, Toronto, 1997

No, Sex in the Snow is not the latest Danielle Steele gusher or Stephen King horror-fest. It is rather a fairly dry and dispassionate examination of the values and aspirations of Canada's adult population. Author Michael Adams (whose day job is the President of Environics Ltd., a major Canadian polling firm) describes the book as a 'psychographic geography of Canada'. Psychographics is the study of groups or market segments in the population who are defined by their values and resulting lifestyle choices.

But why the provocative title to the book (beyond the patently obvious one of trying to sell as many copies as possible)? Adams describes the reasoning as follows:

"As I see it, the new mental posture of Canadians has been shaped by three major quests: for personal autonomy, for pleasure and for spiritual fulfilment. In all three pursuits, the accent is on "personal". It is this particular constellation of socio-cultural currents - among the most profound in Canada today - that gave rise to the title Sex in the Snow. The snow represents what is most enduring in Canadian values; the sex represents the hedonism and demand for immediate gratification that distinguishes the recent evolution of social values in the country. The stereotype of Canadians as respectful and reserved, and not that imaginative, is fast losing its validity." (p. 6)

According to Adams, the psychographic approach to analyzing the adult population is the proper way to understand the trends and issues facing Canada today, as opposed to the demographics-based approaches of David Foot (Boom, Bust and Echo) and David Cork (The Pig and the Python). 'Demographics is not destiny' proclaims Adams, arguing that the psychographic method is a more accurate tool to identify the values and ideals that motivate Canadians. While he does concede that demography does play some role in influencing behavior, he clearly believes that individual aspirations are dominant.

Adams uses a technique of cluster analysis (known somewhat mysteriously as the 3SC system). This is a type of multivariate clustering and mapping technique that uses a two-dimensional grid - one axis being 'individual vs. social inclinations' and the other being 'traditional vs. modern values'. Through their responses to a detailed questionnaire, individuals can be pigeon-holed into the grid and classified. Entire groups can be analyzed this way and placed into logical groups (or 'tribes' as the book terms them because they share ideals and aspirations). Voila! A psychographic mapping (geography, in Adams' words) of the adult population. (Those keen to find out how they would fit into this scheme are encouraged to visit the Environics web sit at where they can answer some questions and be so classified.)

Using this 3SC system, Adams identifies twelve psychographic 'tribes', found in three age categories: the elders (over age 50), the boomers (aged 30 to 49), and 'Generation X' (short form: GenXers, aged 15 to 29). The chart below lists each of these 12 tribes and shows their size, proportion of total adult population, and values and motivations. The bulk of the book is then taken up with an explanation of how each of these groups thinks, feels and behaves.

In a stereotypical nutshell, the elders (comprising 28% of Canada's adult population), have clearly defined world views, with a 'right' way and a 'wrong' way to do things. As a group, they tend to defer personal pleasure, either because they believe in the ultimate rewards of an afterlife, or because they are motivated by guilt and a sense of duty that puts their obligations ahead of other things in their lives.

'Generation X', on the other hand, has refused to accept duty, guilt and fear as motivating forces. A group as large as the elders (comprising 29% of the adult population), they are much more focused on immediate gratification, self-fulfillment and experience-seeking. According to Adams, they are on "the leading edge in the movement away from traditional values."

The baby boomers are a complex group that lies somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. By far the largest cluster, with 43% of the adult population, some are involved in a sort of extended adolescence while others are preparing actively for retirement in an increasingly uncertain economic future. There are four 'tribes' that Adams has identified for the boomers, ranging from the 'Disengaged Darwinists' who are primarily motivated by a fear of the future and the quest for financial independence, to the 'Connected Enthusiasts', who embrace new experiences and are actively seeking gratification (not infrequently in dubious ways through the internet). Oh yes, and let us not forget the 'Autonomous Rebels' (Adam's term for hippies leftover from the sixties), who seek personal autonomy and self-fulfilment, have a strong belief in human rights and remain suspicious of people in positions of authority.

Adams also comments on the differences between women and men. First off, he notes quite correctly that there are difference between the sexes, but that these are relatively minor compared to the differences between the tribes themselves. That is, the differences between men and women within a tribe are less significant than the differences between different tribes. With this caveat, he suggests that the values of men and women are converging - that women are comparatively less motivated by the traditional values of 'guilt' and 'duty' than they used to be a generation ago. "Today...the values propelling our culture - autonomy, hedonism and a quest for meaning - have influenced women as much as men". (p. 145)

He also reflects on the differences between Canadians and Americans. "Despite their mythological adherence to the ideal of personal freedom, Americans, in fact, harbour a far greater confidence in many institutions than do Canadians. In general, Americans have a greater faith in the family, the state (that is, "America"), religion and the market." (p. 164)

And finally, regarding the differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada, Adams is sanguine about the future: "..despite tribal differences, French and English Canadians have far more in common with each other in terms of values than either group has with the Americans (however offensive this observation might be to political ideologues of the 'distinct society')...Canadians are not revolutionaries: they are rebels and reformers. And in spite of our growing intimacy with American commerce and culture, Canada remains a distinct society on the northern half of the North American continent." (p. 195)

So what of the future? Adams identifies two Generation X tribes - the 'New Aquarians' and the 'Autonomous Post-Materialists' as being those most likely to lead us forward. As opposed to the other 'GenX' tribes that have relatively little social conscience (i.e. the 'Aimless Dependents', the 'Thrill-Seeking Materialists' and the 'Social Hedonists') both these tribes seem to exhibit something in the way of redeeming values (egalitarianism, respect for human rights, and a respect for freedom). He ends the book with a futuristic, if incredibly corny (and American, no less!), vision: "Already on the leading edge of modern values, they [these two GenX tribes] will be the multicultural crew of our "Starship Enterprise." (p. 202)

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF CANADA from Michael Adams, Sex in the Snow

Demographic Group Psychographic Type % of Adult Population Size of Group Motivation Key Values
The Elders (age 50+) 1. Cosmopolitan Modernists
1.4 million
traditional institutions and experience-seeking global world-view; respect for education; desire for innovation
2. Rational Traditionalists
3.5 million
financial independence, stability and security religiosity; primacy of reason; respect for historical tradition; respect for authority; duty; guilt; deferred gratification
3. Extroverted Traditionalists
1.7 million
traditional communities, institutions and social status religiosity; family; respect for historical tradition; respect for institutions; duty; fear; deferred gratification
The Boomers (age 30 - 49) 4. Disengaged Darwinists
4.3 million
financial independence, stability and security fear; nostalgia for the past
5. Autonomous Rebels
2.4 million
personal autonomy and self-fulfilment strong belief in human rights; scepticism toward traditional institutions; suspicion of authority; freedom; individuality; respect for education
6. Connected Enthusiasts
1.4 million
traditional and new communities, and experience-seeking family; community; hedonism; immediate gratification
7. Anxious Communitarians
2.1 million
traditional communities, institutions and social status family; community; fear; duty; need for respect
The Gen Xers (age 15 - 29) 8. Thrill-Seeking Materialists
1.7 million
traditional communities, social status and experience-seeking desire for money and material possessions; desire for recognition, respect and admiration
9. Aimless Dependents
1.9 million
financial independence, stability and security fear; desire for independence
10. Social Hedonists
experience-seeking and new communities aesthetics; hedonism; sexual permissiveness; immediate gratification
11. New Aquarians
experience-seeking and new communities egalitarianism; ecologism; hedonism
12. Autonomous Post-Materialists
1.4 million
personal autonomy and self-fulfilment freedom; respect for human rights





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