Off the links, Zibata plans classes in deportment and civility, and the posting of lots of rules — about curbing pets, making noise and taking out recyclables — the kind of social mores local governments in Mexico rarely bother to enforce.
The advertising slogan for Zibata is “where the impossible . . . is possible.”
“It is what Mexicans want,” Vega said.
Hard to measure
The exact size and shape of this new class of home buyer is hard to measure. Counting the middle class in Mexico (pop. 114 million) is not a straightforward calculation as it is in the United States, where a 1040 tax return and a Zip code define who’s who on the economic scale.
In the developing world, in countries such as India, China and Mexico, scholars argue, the middle class can be defined by what its members consume, and so a Mexican homeowning household with a new refrigerator, a car and a couple of cellphones is considered middle-class — even if the combined salaries of the members of the household would make them miserably poor in Washington.
Another measure is perception: You are middle-class if you think you are middle-class. A February survey of Mexicans by the independent pollster Jorge Buendia reports that 65 percent of respondents consider themselves in the middle (27 percent described themselves as lower class, and only 2 percent copped to upper-class status).
“If you just look in someone’s wallet, Mexico is not growing that fast,” said Willy Azarcoya, founder of a small marketing research firm here, referring to Mexico’s steady but unspectacular annual GDP growth of 2 or 3 percent.
“But people think they can achieve things now, and that is the difference,” Azarcoya said. “It is an attitude adjustment.”
Azarcoya acknowledged that Mexico still harbors a huge number of poor — between a fourth and half the population, depending on the measures (food security vs. ability to buy needed household goods). Poverty ticked upward slightly after the 2008 global recession, but Mexico’s middle-class march is back on track, and the broader trajectory shows a steady climb out of mass poverty.
Azarcoya’s morning routine is not unusual. He gets up early. His wife works. Women represent 45 percent of the labor force. He drives the kids through rush-hour traffic to two private schools. There are now more than 20 million cars on Mexican roads, up from from 4 million in 1980. He reads e-mails on his iPhone while gulping a yogurt for breakfast.
When one of his clients, the cereal giant Kellogg’s, wanted Azarcoya to gather a dozen families for an advertisement showing them eating breakfast together at home, he had trouble finding them.
“Nobody lives like that anymore,” he said. “They want to live like that. But they don’t.”
Trend of smaller families
Smaller families are a hallmark of the growing middle class. In 1960, Mexico’s fertility rate was 7.3 children per woman, according to World Bank figures. Today, it’s 2.3, slightly above the U.S. rate of 2.1.
“My friends think we’re crazy for having three kids,” Azarcoya said. “Nobody has three anymore.”
Mela Ruiz, 30, who is expecting her first child in a couple of months, said she and her husband plan to have no more than two. The young couple own three small businesses — including her manicure shop, a franchise operation called “Spa Manos,” that Ruiz runs six days a week in a mall adjacent to a new subdivision.
“Going to college was expensive for me, so it’s going to cost even more in the future,” Ruiz said. “I want to be able to give my children the same things I had.”
Ruiz is not unusual, either. Since 1980, the number of Mexicans receiving a university education has tripled, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Private for-profit universities, with relatively affordable tuitions, are flourishing, such as TecMilenio, with 40 campuses across Mexico, that offer students the option of taking classes via the Internet.
“Those of us in the middle are the engine for progress in this country,” said Paulin, the “Mad Men” fan. “The rich? They’ve already got it made,” he said.
Paulin went to college, got an MBA and moved back to Queretaro for the job as a sales manager at a company that makes industrial disinfectants for Mexican agribusiness — mostly farms that export to the United States. Parked outside was his brand-new Mitsubishi pickup. He said a salary for his position is about $31,000 a year.
“There are good opportunities here,” he said. “There’s no reason to go abroad in search of a better life.”
Road to getting ahead
Although blue-collar Mexicans may continue to look north for job opportunities in manual labor markets such as farming and construction, a growing pool of professional and service workers see few reasons to go abroad, researchers say. They see a road to getting ahead right at home.
It’s a path paved with plastic for more and more Mexicans. The number of credit cards in circulation nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2009, according to Mexico’s Central Bank, but debt leaves many Mexicans sensing that their foothold in the middle class is slippery.
“You may be middle class, but you still feel poor,” said Oscar Marquez, a 33-year-old father who has worked 10 years for Telcel, the phone giant controlled by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, ranked by Forbes as the world's richest man.
A good salary at Telcel is about $1,000 to $1,500 a month, Marquez said, enough for today but maybe not tomorrow.
“We live well, but it’s living well day to day. My wife wants me to set aside $100 a month for our savings,” he said. “But I’ve got car payments to make.”