Are the Simpsons Still Middle Class?

March 9th, 2021

I was shocked to learn on a recent NPR podcast that the Simpsons might not be considered middle class in 2021. That is, people with Homer and Marge’s educations, careers and salary would unlikely be able to afford the lifestyle and living situation depicted in the show. In 1989, when the series began, the economy was different enough that what was doable then is not so doable now. Of course, it’s only a cartoon.

This week is Spring Break at BACS and for many schools at all levels across the country. If not for the pandemic, more families might be headed on trips – something not so common when I was growing up in Bryn Athyn in the 1960s. The economy changes.

Today children increasingly live at home well into adulthood. According to recent polls, the majority of Americans aged 18-30 currently live with their parents. This number has grown dramatically since 2000. It coincides with greatly reduced percentages of people being married by age 30 (less than 50% compared with 90% in 1970) as well as an increase in multi-generational households (20% compared with 10% in 1960). COVID-19 may have also affected this.

These patterns have changed significantly over the years. In many ways, the current pattern resembles the United States before 1940, when multi-generational households were much more common, and young adults virtually always lived at home until they were married. In 18th century Europe, according to Conjugial Love 450, it was also common for people to put off marriage until they were older.

Since Bryn Athyn was founded in the 1890s, there have been continual changes in our lifestyles and housing arrangements. Some of the large stately homes of the early days have been modified to accommodate more families. Smaller houses have been enlarged and updated. The creation of Cairnwood Village has provided a popular alternative for older residents. The increased expectations of broadband, cable, cell phone plans, central air, numerous appliances, taxes, and other things have augmented the costs of housing, and the advantages of having more people in each home.

I mention the Simpsons, and our changing living arrangements, to make a point about the way that we think about these things. What works for one generation may not work in the next. The Writings never talk about multi-generational households, but they were written at a time when it was common for the family business to be located in the home, and for households to include relatives, employees and assistants.

The principles of religion do not change, but many other things in our lives do as customs and the economy vary over time. The pandemic may bring lasting changes. It is challenging in any age for young people to establish themselves, but having loving families, and a supportive and flexible community can make it easier. On the Simpsons, it would probably also help if Bart, Lisa and Maggie would ever grow up.